Revisiting the treatment of conduct problems in children with callous-unemotional traits

David J. Hawes*, Mark R. Dadds, John Brennan, Tracy Rhodes, Avril Cauchi

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: This study examined whether the diminished treatment response previously reported for children with conduct problems and high levels of callous-unemotional (CU) traits is evident when these traits are indexed using multi-informant data collected from mothers, fathers, and teachers. It also tested whether treatment outcomes associated with CU traits are independent of overlap between CU traits and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) symptoms. Method: Diagnostic data on oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) severity were collected pre-treatment (time 1) and at 6-month follow-up (time 2) in a sample of children (N = 95; 67 boys, 28 girls) aged 3-9 years with clinic-referred conduct problems and comorbid symptoms in a range of diagnostic domains. Time 1 measures of CU traits and ASD symptoms were tested as predictors of time 2 ODD severity using structural equation modeling, with multi-informant ratings of CU traits modeled as a single latent variable. Results: Compared to children with low levels of CU traits, those with high levels exhibited more severe ODD symptoms at follow-up (β = 0.33, SE = 0.08, p < 0.05), after controlling for pre-treatment severity, socio-economic status, other demographics (age, gender), and parameters of treatment (number of treatment sessions, medication status). Although CU traits and ASD symptoms were positively correlated, ASD symptoms showed no association with change in ODD severity from pre-treatment to follow-up. Likewise, the association between CU traits and ODD outcomes held when controlling for covariation between CU traits and ASD symptoms. Conclusions: Our findings replicate previous evidence that CU traits are uniquely associated with poor clinical outcomes among children treated for conduct problems, and show for the first time that this association is not accounted for by symptoms of ASD.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)646-653
Number of pages8
JournalAustralian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Autism spectrum disorders
  • Callous-unemotional traits
  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Treatment


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