To examine the validity of diagnostic criteria for a subgroup of children with atypical psychosis (n = 19), designated here as "multidimensionally impaired." These children are characterized by poor attention and impulse control, psychotic symptoms, and poor affective control. Children and adolescents (n = 19) meeting our criteria for multidimensionally impaired syndrome with onset of psychotic symptoms at or before age 12 years were identified from a total of 150 in-person screenings for very early-onset schizophrenia between 1990 and 1996. We compared the premorbid adjustment, family history, follow-up status, and laboratory measures for a subgroup of these children with those of (1) a rigorously defined group of 29 children with DSM-III-R schizophrenia and (2) 19 children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. Patients with multidimensionally impaired syndrome and patients with very early-onset schizophrenia shared a similar pattern of early transient autistic features, postpsychotic cognitive decline, and an elevated risk of schizophrenic-spectrum disorders among their first-degree relatives. This pattern was not seen in the attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder group. In contrast to very early-onset schizophrenia, the multidimensionally impaired group had significantly poorer scores on the Freedom From Distractibility factor on the WISC-R, a less deviant pattern of autonomic reactivity, and no progression to schizophrenia. The findings support the distinction of the multidimensionally impaired cases as separate from those with other psychiatric disorders, and there is somewhat greater evidence to suggest that this disorder belongs in the schizophrenia spectrum.