There is overlap between an autistic and hyperactive-inattentive symptomatology when studied cross-sectionally. This study is the first to examine the longitudinal pattern of association between social-communication deficits and hyperactive-inattentive symptoms in the general population, from childhood through adolescence. We explored the interrelationship between trajectories of co-occurring symptoms, and sought evidence for shared prenatal/perinatal risk factors.
Study participants were 5,383 singletons of white ethnicity from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). Multiple measurements of hyperactive-inattentive traits (Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire) and autistic social-communication impairment (Social Communication Disorder Checklist) were obtained between 4 and 17 years. Both traits and their trajectories were modeled in parallel using latent class growth analysis (LCGA). Trajectory membership was subsequently investigated with respect to prenatal/perinatal risk factors.
LCGA analysis revealed two distinct social-communication trajectories (persistently impaired versus low-risk) and four hyperactive-inattentive trait trajectories (persistently impaired, intermediate, childhood-limited and low-risk). Autistic symptoms were more stable than those of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) behaviors, which showed greater variability. Trajectories for both traits were strongly but not reciprocally interlinked, such that the majority of children with a persistent hyperactive-inattentive symptomatology also showed persistent social-communication deficits but not vice versa. Shared predictors, especially for trajectories of persistent impairment, were maternal smoking during the first trimester, which included familial effects, and a teenage pregnancy.
Our longitudinal study reveals that a complex relationship exists between social-communication and hyperactive-inattentive traits. Patterns of association change over time, with corresponding implications for removing exclusivity criteria for ASD and ADHD, as proposed for DSM-5.