Impulsivity is posited to be a key part of the externalizing spectrum during childhood, but this idea has received minimal empirical attention. The goal of the present investigation was to utilize network analysis to determine whether behavioral impulsivity symptoms are key components of the externalizing network across several developmental periods from preschool into adolescence. Participants were 109 preschoolers (64 % male) ages 3 to 6, 237 children (59 % male) ages 6 to 9, 372 children (59 % male) ages 10 to 13, and 357 adolescents (59 % male) ages 13 to 17 and their parents. Parents completed ratings of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) symptoms on a well-validated rating scale. Network analyses indicated that ADHD and ODD were somewhat differentiated in preschool, becoming united by behavioral impulsivity symptoms during early childhood, and then differentiating into inattention versus externalizing clusters later during childhood and in adolescence. Behavioral impulsivity symptoms were core to the externalizing spectrum across most developmental periods, but core inattentive and ODD symptoms were also identified in line with progressive differentiation. These results suggest the increasing importance of impulsivity symptoms across development, explaining externalizing comorbidity and potentially serving as a viable target for childhood interventions for externalizing problems.

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Published in Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, v. 45, issue 1, p. 83-90.

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

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This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of an article published in Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology. The final authenticated version is available online at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-016-0148-6.

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This research was supported by NIH National Institute of Mental Health Grant R01-MH63146 and MH3759105 to Joel Nigg and 5R03 HD062599-02 and K12 DA 035150 to Michelle Martel.