The goal of this proposal is to identify early life predictors of symptoms of ADHD and associated behavioral and emotional problems. To do so children are followed from before birth to 4.5 years of age?on the cusp of school entry and well into the preschool period. ADHD and related problems with behavioral and emotional dysregulation are often not clinically identified until school age. By that point they are difficult to reverse. This proposal answers calls in the literature for earlier identification of risk and for discovery of early life mechanisms that can be targets for low-risk yet effective early life intervention to prevent the full onset of these problems. To do so we expand the study of an existing maternal- infant cohort by adding measures, time points, and an older outcome. We extend the cohort from the toddler years into the preschool period when psychopathology has begun to take shape and be able to be relatively reliably characterized. Key mechanisms to be examined are (a) biological signals in early life, focused on maternal inflammation and serotonergic metabolites during pregnancy and the trajectory of change in those signals in the first three years of life; (b) brain development as indexed by EEG measures from birth to age 3 years (lower cost and more readily clinically applicable than MRI at this stage); and (c) behavioral dynamics in early caregiving, about which little is known regarding ADHD risk in the first 24 months of life. The inflammation hypothesis builds on striking preliminary data uncovered by the PI's in their prior work. The EEG metrics likewise are supported by preliminary evidence. The behavioral data also have strong preliminary data and build on multiple theorists' proposals about the role of early emotional regulation in subsequent risk for dysregulatory psychopathology and ADHD. Both baseline (intercept) and change (trajectory) measures will be examined to help evaluate when in development a particular domain or level of analysis is most informative to subsequent outcome. Each of these hypotheses is examined in stand-alone fashion, and then with those findings in hand, an integrative developmental model will be tested. If successful the study will open new directions for low-risk yet potentially effective early intervention by identifying specific, measurable, and reversible risk factors or mechanisms as candidates for clinical trial follow up.
Child developmental and learning problems like ADHD, place heavy, often lifelong burdens on families, as well as on the nation's educational, health care, and justice systems. Early identification of risk and cause of ADHD would enable solutions to restore full child health and prevent onset of ADHD before problems become entrenched. This study will test key possibilities for early life prediction in areas that could be reversible with low-risk intervention.