New Research Shows a Positive Relationship Between ADHD and Autistic Traits in Adults

By Dr. Maria Panagiotidi, Lecturer in Psychology & member of the Staffordshire Centre for Psychological Research

In a recent paper published in the “Journal of Attention Disorders”, we found that there is a positive relationship between Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) traits. Specifically, adults who reported more inattention and hyperactivity symptoms also reported more behaviors related to autism spectrum conditions (e.g., difficulties in communication).

ADHD and Autism Often Co-Occur and Share Genetic Susceptibility

ADHD is the most common neurodevelopmental disorder and in roughly half of the children diagnosed with ADHD, symptoms persist into adulthood. It is characterized by attentional difficulties, hyperactive/impulsive behavior, or both. ASD is a developmental disorder that severely affects development in three main areas: language ability, social interaction, and stereotyped or repetitive behaviors. Clinical and genetic studies suggest that these conditions often co-occur and share genetic susceptibility. ADHD and ASD can both be viewed as the extreme end of traits found in the general population.

Higher Inattention is Linked to Poorer Communication and Social Skills

In collaboration with Dr. Tom Stafford and Professor Paul Overton from the University of Sheffield we examined the co-occurrence of ADHD and ASD traits in an adult healthy population. In total, 334 participants were recruited and were asked to complete a number of online questionnaires measuring current and retrospective (from their childhood) ADHD and ASD symptoms and behaviors. A positive relationship was found between ADHD and autistic traits. In particular, higher inattention and overall ADHD scores were associated with self-reported deficits in communication and social skills. Both childhood and current ADHD traits were associated with autistic symptoms. The only autistic symptoms not associated with ADHD scores were related to attention to detail. This finding suggests that such a tendency to focus on detail might be specific to autism.

Overall, our results are similar to findings from previous studies on clinical populations, in which a significant overlap exists between the two conditions. This further supports the dimensionality of ADHD and AS and suggests that these disorders might share substantial aetiology.

Link to the Full Publication

Panagiotidi, M., Overton, P. G., & Stafford, T. (2017). Co-occurrence of ASD and ADHD traits in an adult population. Journal of Attention Disorders. Advance Online Publication. doi: 10.1177/1087054717720720

About Maria Panagiotidi, PhD, Lecturer, Staffordshire University

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Maria studied Psychology at the Pantio University in Athens, Greece, and after graduating in 2009 she moved to London where she received an MSc in Cognitive Neuroscience. She recently completed a Ph.D. in Psychology at the University of Sheffield. Before joining Staffordshire University as a lecturer Maria worked as a research psychologist at Arctic Shores, an award-winning Manchester start-up (disruptHR, Innovate UK) creating psychometric mobile games. She is interested in science communication and I have been involved in a number of projects (e.g. The Empathy Station with British Council Film) and organizations (Science Brainwaves) promoting public understanding of science. Her research interests are in the area of cognitive psychology. More specifically, she is interested in executive functions (prospective memory, multitasking, attention), gamification, time perception, and creativity in normal and atypical populations. Her research employs a combination of behavioral testing, eye tracking, and neuroimaging (fMRI).

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Latest update: November 8, 2017