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Association of adversity with psychopathology in early childhood: Dimensional and cumulative approaches.

BACKGROUND: The association between adversity and psychopathology in adolescents and adults is characterized by equifinality. These associations, however, have not been assessed during early childhood when psychopathology first emerges. Defining adversity using both dimensional and cumulative risk approaches, we examined whether specific types of adversity are differentially associated with psychopathology in preschool-aged children.

METHODS: Measures of threat, deprivation, and total adversities (i.e., cumulative risk) were calculated based on parent-reported information for 755 2- to 5-year old children recruited from pediatric primary care clinics. Logistic regression was used to estimate cross-sectional associations between type of adversity and anxiety, depression, ADHD, and behavioral disorder diagnoses.

RESULTS: Threat and cumulative risk exhibited independent associations with psychopathology. Threat was strongly related to behavioral disorders. Cumulative risk was consistently related to all psychopathologies.

CONCLUSIONS: Using mutually adjusted models, we identified differential associations between threat and psychopathology outcomes in preschool-aged children. This selectivity may reflect different pathways through which adversity increases the risk for psychopathology during this developmentally important period. As has been observed at other ages, a cumulative risk approach also effectively identified the cumulative impact of all forms of adversity on most forms of psychopathology during early childhood.

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