J Abnorm Child Psychol 2019 Mar;47(3):421-432
Department of Psychology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA, 94305, USA.
Despite a growing understanding that early adversity in childhood broadly affects risk for psychopathology, the contribution of stressful life events to the development of symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not clear. In the present study, we examined the association between number of stressful life events experienced and ADHD symptoms, assessed using the Attention Problems subscale of the Child Behavior Checklist, in a sample of 214 children (43% male) ages 9.11-13.98 years (M = 11.38, SD = 1.05). In addition, we examined whether the timing of the events (i.e., onset through age 5 years or after age 6 years) was associated with ADHD symptoms. Finally, we examined variation in brain structure to determine whether stressful life events were associated with volume in brain regions that were found to vary as a function of symptoms of ADHD. We found a small to moderate association between number of stressful life events and ADHD symptoms. Although the strength of the associations between number of events and ADHD symptoms did not differ as a function of the age of occurrence of stressful experiences, different brain regions were implicated in the association between stressors and ADHD symptoms in the two age periods during which stressful life events occurred. These findings support the hypothesis that early adversity is associated with ADHD symptoms, and provide insight into possible brain-based mediators of this association.