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Hyperactivity: will it stay or go?

Hyperactive children, it appears, are not always--or even usually--on a one-way street to behavior problems later in life. About two-thirds of a large group of boys diagnosed as hyperactive in childhood have shed all or most of the problems associated with the disorder as they moved into adolescence, according to researchers at the Long Island Jewish-Hillside Medical Center in glen Oaks, N.Y.

But the rest of the boys in the group still display the symptoms of childhood hyperactivity, as well as a surplus of aggressive and criminal behaviors and drug abuse, report Rachel Gittelman and her colleagues in the October Archieves of General Psychiatry.

This suggests that there is a subgroup of "pure" hyperactive children who are most likely to engage in delinquent and antisocial behavior later in life, writes psychiatrist Dennis P. Cantwell of the University of California at Los Angeles in an accompanying editorial. It is unclear, he adds, whether the hyperactivity and other symptoms in these adolescents will persist into adulthood.

The nature of childhood hyperactivity--an overwhelmingly male phenomenon--has been studied and debated for several decades, but few researchers have diagnosed the disorder in a group of children and followed the same youngsters ito adolescence. Defining and measuring hyperactivity, or "attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity," as it is now called, has always proved troublesome. Three categories of behavioral signs are sought: inattention (such as difficulty concentrating on or finishing school projects), impulsivity (such as acting before thinking about the consequences of behavior and constantly shifting from one activity to another) and excessive physical activity (including difficulty staying seated and sitting still without fidgeting).

In extensive interviews with 101 males, ages 16 to 23, who had been diagnosed as hyperactive in childhood, and in interviews with their parents, the researchers found that all three behavioral markers still characterize 31 of the boys. This is striking, they say, because it is often assumed that problems with attention remain, while impulsive behavior and physical overactivity diminish or disappear during adolescence. The scientists also tracked the progress of 100 nonhyperactive boys, only three of whom displayed all the signs of hyperactivity during their teenage years.

The 31 adolescents with "pure" hyperactivity also engaged in significantly more "antisocial behavior," say the investigators. this includes school truancy and expulsion, vandalism, fighting, thefts and criminal arrests. Alcohol and drug use also were far more common among these boys.

The good news, they note, is that behavioral problems markedly dropped during adolescence for the majority of once-hyperactive boys. Researchers involved in two other ongoing, long-term studies of hyperactive boys are coming up with similar findings.

Gabrielle Weiss of McGill University in Montreal and her co-workers say that less than half of a group of 63 men aged 21 to 33, who as children were diagnosed as hyperactive, continue to display at least one of the three symptoms of hyperactivity. Mild to severe "antisocial behavior" also as observed among these individuals, they report in the March Journal Of The American Academy Of Child Psychiatry.

In 1982, James H. Satterfield and his colleagues at the National Center for Hyperactive Children in Encino, Calif., used official arrest records to confirm that 110 teenage boys diagnosed as hyperactive in childhood were arrested far more often than 88 nonhyperactive adolescents. In a further comparison, they found that hyperactive youths arrested more than once for serious offsenses had, in childhood, normal brain activity on an electroencephalogram (EEG) and other tests of cortical function; hyperactive boys with no later arrests showed abnormal brain function on the same tests.

Although EEG data cover only a small portion of brain activity, cautions Satterfield, lack of abnormality still predicted later delinquency better than IQ, economic status or psychological tests. This flies in the face of traditional assumptions that brain function abnormalities lead to more severe behavior problems, he says. Explanations of the surprising finding are "all speculation" at this point, adds Satterfield. He is now putting together an extensive long-term study of hyperactives' brain function that will include brain imaging data.
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Title Annotation:follow-up studies on boys diagnosed as hyperactive in childhood
Author:Bower, Bruce
Publication:Science News
Date:Oct 19, 1985
Words:667
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