Studying Social Deficits Across ASD, ADHD, and OCD

What is the research about?

Children use social skills to communicate and interact with others. Poor social skills, known as social deficits, include limited social communication and interaction skills, among others. Social deficits are a defining characteristic of some neurodevelopmental disorders. The researchers in this study investigated the underlying biology of social deficits in children with different neurodevelopmental disorders. This study included various disorders because of the increasing recognition that different neurodevelopmental disorders have similar symptoms and characteristics. 

What did the researchers do?

The researchers grouped POND participants based on behavioural and brain data to determine if the new groups reflected the participants’ original diagnosis using a data-driven, machine learning approach. POND participants who were typically developing or had a primary diagnosis of ASD, ADHD, or OCD were included if they had neuroimaging data. The researchers looked at the behavioural characteristics of participants on questionnaires that measure social abilities, attention, and obsessive-compulsive traits, as well as the structure of the brain.

What did the researchers find?

The results suggested that the groups determined by categorizing participants based on behaviour and brain data did not align with the diagnostic label (e.g., typically developing, ASD, ADHD, or OCD). The groups created by the researchers based on data contained participants from multiple diagnostic categories.

Take home message.

This paper challenges the way ASD, ADHD, and OCD are currently defined, diagnosed, and treated. The results from this paper add to the growing evidence that neurodevelopmental disorders may not be able to be classified by a single, unique diagnostic label but rather looking at behaviour and biology may be more important. Future studies are needed to show that these findings hold in other samples and other measures of brain and behaviour. The researchers outline a need to create groups of neurodevelopmental disorders that better reflect the behavioural and biological characteristics to ensure more accurate interventions and care.

For a PDF of this lay summary click the following link: Baribeau et al., (2019) Clean.

The full research article can be accessed at this link:

Reference (APA):

Baribeau, D. A., Dupuis, A., Paton, T. A., Hammill, C., Scherer, S. W., Schachar, R. J., Arnold, PD. , Szatmari, P., Nicolson, R., Georgiades, S., Crosbie, J., Brian, J., Iaboni, A., Kushki, A., Lerch, J, P., & Anagnostou, E. (2019). Structural neuroimaging correlates of social deficits are similar in autism spectrum disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: analysis from the POND Network. Translational psychiatry, 9(1), 72.