Pre- and Perinatal Risk for Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Does Neuropsychological Weakness Explain the Link?

Kelsey Wiggs, Alexis L. Elmore, Joel T. Nigg, Molly A. Nikolas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Etiological investigations of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and disruptive behavior problems support multiple causal pathways, including involvement of pre- and perinatal risk factors. Because these risks occur early in life, well before observable ADHD and externalizing symptoms emerge, the relation between risk and symptoms may be mediated by neurodevelopmental effects that manifest later in neuropsychological functioning. However, potential dissociable effects of pre/perinatal risk elements on ADHD and familial confounds must also be considered to test alternative hypotheses. 498 youth aged 6–17 years (55.0 % male) completed a multi-stage, multi-informant assessment including parent and teacher symptom reports of symptoms and parent ratings of pre/perinatal health risk indicators. Youth completed a neuropsychological testing battery. Multiple mediation models examined direct effects of pre- and perinatal health risk on ADHD and other disruptive behavior disorder symptoms and indirect effects via neuropsychological functioning. Parental ADHD symptoms and externalizing status was covaried to control for potential familial effects. Effects of prenatal substance exposure on inattention were mediated by memory span and temporal processing deficits. Further, effects of perinatal health risk on inattention, hyperactivity-impulsivity, and ODD were mediated by deficits in response variability and temporal processing. Further, maternal health risks during pregnancy appeared to exert direct rather than indirect effects on outcomes. Results suggest that after controlling for familial relatedness of ADHD between parent and child, early developmental health risks may influence ADHD via effects on neuropsychological processes underpinning the disorder.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1473-1485
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Abnormal Child Psychology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016


  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  • Neuropsychological dysfunction
  • Prenatal risk

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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