Cross-Diagnosis Structural Correlates of Autism-Like Social Communication Differences

What was the research about?

Autism (ASD), attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can present social communication differences. Many different biological processes can underlie such differences, but we don’t know whether specific diagnoses tell us about what biological processes are involved for each person.


What did the researchers do?

Participants were typically developing (TD) children, autistic children, children with ADHD, or OCD ages 3-22 years old. Data were collected using questionnaires and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans. The questionnaires asked about social behaviors and experiences, while the MRI scans measured the volume, surface area, and thickness of the brain. Machine learning approaches were then used to look for patterns between measures of the brain structure and social communication behaviours.


What did the researchers find?

The results of the study show that there are subgroups of neurodivergent children and youth (e.g., ADHD, ASD, and OCD) that share social communication challenges and behavioral brain differences regardless of diagnoses. Two clear subgroups were found. A group of neurodevelopmental disorder (NDD) participants (ADHD, OCD, ASD) and a mixed group which also included typically developing brains.


Take home message

Many brain systems are involved in social communication. The study showed that there may be subgroups of individuals who may share similar brain-social communication association patterns regardless of diagnoses. Understanding these subgroups may help us better understand the types of social communication differences in NDDs and provide personalized approaches to accommodations and services that meet the wide range of individual needs.


The full research article can be accessed at this link:

Reference (APA):

Kushki, A., Cardy, R., Panahandeh, S., Malihi, M., Hammill, C., Brian, J., Iaboni, A., Taylor, M., Schachar, R., Crosbie, J., Arnold, P., Kelley, E., Ayub, M., Nicolson, R., Georgiades, S., Lerch, J., Anagnostou, E. (2021). Cross-Diagnosis structural correlates of Autistic-like social communication differences. Cerebral Cortex, 31(110). 5067-5076. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhab142.