The current study utilized both variable- and person-oriented analyses to examine correlates of early disruptive behavior problems. Participants included 80 preschool boys referred to a child psychiatry clinic and diagnosed with oppositional defiant disorder (with or without attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) and 80 case-matched normal comparison boys. The study examined four domains of correlates: vulnerable child characteristics, poor parenting practices, insecure attachment, and adverse family ecology. Results indicated that the combination of these factors provided relatively high sensitivity (81%) and specificity (85%), clearly differentiating referred from comparison boys. A dramatic increase in clinic status occurred when three or more factors were present, and specific combinations of factors were differentially predictive of conduct problems. However, no correlates were found to be either necessary or sufficient for clinic status. By maintaining the integrity of individual cases, person-oriented analyses were able to answer different questions than more traditional variable-oriented analyses. Discussion focuses on the value of person-oriented analyses for understanding heterogeneous clinical groups.
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