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Study reveals three patterns of combined ADHD and autistic traits across the lifespan

26 September 2023

Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are neurodevelopmental conditions that commonly co-occur and have many shared characteristics. A new study led by Dr Amy Shakeshaft has identified how these characteristics co-develop across the lifespan.

The study took data from 11,316 individuals in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) study. The research team then investigated how traits of autism and ADHD developed together between the ages of 4 to 25 years old.

It was observed that ADHD and autistic traits typically follow the same pattern across the lifespan, emerging or declining together.

The team identified three main patterns, or ‘sub-groups’ of combined ADHD-autistic traits through development:

    1. Individuals with consistently low ADHD-autistic traits throughout the lifespan

    2. Individuals with high ADHD-autistic symptoms in childhood which declined in young adulthood

    3. Individuals with increasing ADHD-autistic traits in late adolescence or young adulthood.

The team also identified specific characteristics which are associated with each sub-group, including:

  • Sex ratio
  • Extent of behavioural problems and social functioning during childhood and adulthood
  • Genetic risks for other disorders such as schizophrenia and depression.

“The results from this study highlight the variable pattern of ADHD and autistic trait co-development from childhood to young adulthood observed in the general population, as well as the variable co-occurring characteristics of individuals with different patterns of trait development. These are important considerations for clinicians following up autistic or ADHD children through to adult life.”
Amy Shakeshaft Research Associate, Division of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neurosciences

In conclusion, this research indicates that there are three broad patterns of ADHD-autistic traits in the general population, and these symptom patterns are associated with a number of health, educational and employment outcomes throughout the lifespan.

To read the full paper, visit: Co-development of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and autistic trait trajectories from childhood to early adulthood - PubMed (

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