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Neurodevelopmental disorders: what happens when children grow up and why

Neurodevelopmental disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affect at least 1 in 10 children.

They are thought to begin in early life and, until recently, most children were thought to grow out of their problems. However, we now know that adults are also affected but not much is known about what these problems look like in adults. To start, we need to know what is “normal” or typical.

Research approach

For the first time, neurodevelopmental problems will be assessed in a group of around 8,000 adults (26 year olds) who have taken part in repeated assessments since they were in the womb. We will also assess anxiety, depression and irritability using the same measures that were used in childhood and adolescence.

We will describe neurodevelopmental problems at age 26, as well as patterns of comorbidity with anxiety, depression and other mental health problems. We will find out how neurodevelopmental problems are linked to child/adolescent neurodevelopmental profiles and work with population cohorts in other countries to ensure our findings are robust.

We will also test the extent to which early life experiences (in the womb and the early years) make a difference to life-long (at least up to age 26) neurodevelopmental health using a variety of methods to test causal inference, including Mendelian Randomization.

We will also examine the contribution of genes. Working across different populations will internationally strengthen this type of research. This work has been funded as a Wellcome Trust Collaborative Award.

Proposed outcome

First, we will characterise the natural history of neurodevelopmental disorders from childhood to adult life (aged 4 to 26 years) in a UK population cohort where people have been assessed multiple times at different ages.

We will then investigate the longer-term impacts of early life exposures and risks including links with depression.

Finally, we will apply novel epidemiological methods to infer which early life exposures have causal impacts.

Research team

Dr Lucy Riglin

Dr Lucy Riglin

Lecturer, Division of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neurosciences

+44 (0)29 2068 8419
Professor Anita Thapar

Professor Anita Thapar

Professor, Division of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neurosciences

+44 (0)29 2068 8478

We are collaborating on this project with researchers at University of Bristol, including:


  • Professor George Davey Smith
  • Dr Evie Stergiakouli
  • Professor Kate Tilling

Postdoctoral researchers

  • Dr Beate Leppert