The Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) is a brief behavioural screening questionnaire about 3-16 year olds. It exists in several versions to meet the needs of researchers, clinicians and educationalists. It can be used as part of initial assessment, by asking parents, teachers and young people over the age of 11 to complete questionnaires prior to the first clinical assessment. Each version includes between one and three of the following components:

A) 25 items on psychological attributes

All versions of the SDQ ask about 25 attributes, some positive and others negative.  These 25 items are divided between 5 scales:

1) emotional symptoms (5 items)
2) conduct problems (5 items)
3) hyperactivity/inattention (5 items)
4) peer relationship problems (5 items)
5) prosocial behaviour (5 items)

(1) to 4) added together to generate a total difficulties score (based on 20 items)

  • The same 25 items are included in questionnaires for completion by the parents or teachers of 4-16 year olds (Goodman, 1997).
  • A slightly modified informant-rated version for the parents or nursery teachers of 3 (and 4) year olds. 22 items are identical, the item on reflectiveness is softened, and 2 items on antisocial behaviour are replaced by items on oppositionality.
  • Questionnaires for self-completion by adolescents ask about the same 25 traits, though the wording is slightly different (Goodman et al, 1998). This self-report version is suitable for young people aged around 11-16, depending on their level of understanding and literacy.

In low-risk or general population samples, it may be better to use an alternative three-subscale division of the SDQ into ‘internalising problems’ (emotional+peer symptoms, 10 items), ‘externalising problems’ (conduct+hyperactivity symptoms, 10 items) and the prosocial scale (5 items) ( Goodman et al, 2010).

B) An impact supplement

Several two-sided versions of the SDQ are available with the 25 items on strengths and difficulties on the front of the page and an impact supplement on the back. These extended versions of the SDQ ask whether the respondent thinks the young person has a problem, and if so, enquire further about chronicity, distress, social impairment, and burden to others.  This provides useful additional information for clinicians and researchers with an interest in psychiatric caseness and the determinants of service use (Goodman, 1999).

C) Follow-up questions

The follow-up versions of the SDQ include not only the 25 basic items and the impact question, but also two additional follow-up questions for use after an intervention. Has the intervention reduced problems? Has the intervention helped in other ways, e.g. making the problems more bearable? To increase the chance of detecting change, the follow-up versions of the SDQ ask about ‘the last month’, as opposed to ‘the last six months or this school year’, which is the reference period for the standard versions. Follow-up versions also omit the question about the chronicity of problems.

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