Autism Spectrum Disorder and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Shared or Unique Neurocognitive Profiles?


What was the research about?

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity (ADHD) and autism spectrum (ASD) disorders are common conditions that often occur together and can be characterized by differences in mental processes like the ability to stop what one is doing, holding information in working memory or switching from one action to another. However, not many studies with large samples compared such differences between ADHD and ASD directly or have accounted for the two conditions occurring together (ADHD and ASD). Also, most of the research have involved participants from specialty clinics and these youth tend to have more difficulties which make it harder to generalize the findings to the rest of the population. This research makes direct comparisons between the thinking patterns of individuals with ADHD and ASD in both speciality clinics (research) and the community. 


What did the researchers do?

Researchers compared ADHD and ASD individuals with neurotypical individuals between 6-17 years old recruited from both clinic and community settings. They also measured ADHD and ASD traits in each participant. Researchers used the stop-signal task (SST), a computer task in which individuals must respond to symbols as fast as possible using their right or left hand (go signals). On a subset of trials, participants hear a tone which indicates that they should try to stop their response if they can. Sometimes the stop signal occurs early making it easier to stop; sometime is occurs later making it more difficult to stop. Timing of the stop signal is adjusted based on the participant’s ability to stop. The SST can measure the speed at which you can stop an action (stop-signal reaction time or impulse control), and sustained attention (how consistently you respond). 


What did the researchers find?

Children and youth with ADHD and/or ASD in both community and research samples had longer stop signal reaction time and less sustained attention than neurotypical individuals. ADHD not ASD traits accounted for most of these differences in neurocognition. 


Take home message

After making direct comparisons from a large sample, children and youth with ADHD and ASD share the same neurocognitive profile of impaired impulse control, and sustained attention. ADHD traits rather than ASD traits accounted for these differences. Impulse control and sustained attention may be a good indicator of thinking differences across disorders.


The full research article can be accessed at this link:

Reference (APA):

Schachar RJ, Dupuis A, Arnold PD, Anagnostou E, Kelley E, Georgiades S, Nicolson R, Townes P, Burton CL, Crosbie J. (2022) Autism Spectrum Disorder and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Shared or Unique Neurocognitive Profiles? Res Child Adolesc Psychopathol, 51(1):17-31. doi: 10.1007/s10802-022-00958-6.