Defining the "disruptive" in preschool behavior: What diagnostic observation can teach us

Lauren S. Wakschlag*, Bennett L. Leventhal, Margaret J. Briggs-Gowan, Barbara Danis, Kate Keenan, Carri Hill, Helen L. Egger, Domenic Cicchetti, Alice S. Carter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


This paper presents the clinical/developmental framework underlying a new diagnostic observational tool, the Disruptive Behavior Diagnostic Observation Schedule (DB-DOS). The special importance of observation for clinical assessment during the preschool period is delineated. The developmental rationale for a multi-dimensional assessment of disruptive behavior in young children, including problems in modulation of negative affect and low competence is discussed. The ways in which the DB-DOS will elucidate distinctions between normative and atypical behavior during this developmental period via (a) the integration of qualitative and quantitative dimensions of behavior within a clinically-sensitive coding system, (b) the observation of child behavior both within, and outside of, the parent-child context and (c) the use of specially designed tasks to "press" for clinically salient behaviors are addressed. The promise of this new method for yielding a more precise, developmentally based description of the phenotype of early onset disruptive behavior problems and for providing a standardized clinical tool for observational assessment of disruptive behavior in young children is presented. Large-scale validation of the measure is currently underway.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)183-201
Number of pages19
JournalClinical Child and Family Psychology Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2005


  • Behavior problems
  • Developmental methods
  • Developmental psychopathology
  • Observational assessment
  • Preschool disruptive behavior

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Education
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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