Neurophysiological responses to faces and gaze direction differentiate children with ASD, ADHD and ASD+ADHD

Charlotte Tye, Evelyne Mercure, Karen L Ashwood, Bahare Azadi, Philip Asherson, Mark H Johnson, Patrick Bolton, GrĂ¡inne McLoughlin
Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience 2013, 5: 71-85
Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) demonstrate face processing abnormalities that may underlie social impairment. Despite substantial overlap between ASD and ADHD, ERP markers of face and gaze processing have not been directly compared across pure and comorbid cases. Children with ASD (n=19), ADHD (n=18), comorbid ASD+ADHD (n=29) and typically developing (TD) controls (n=26) were presented with upright/inverted faces with direct/averted gaze, with concurrent recording of the P1 and N170 components. While the N170 was predominant in the right hemisphere in TD and ADHD, children with ASD (ASD/ASD+ADHD) showed a bilateral distribution. In addition, children with ASD demonstrated altered response to gaze direction on P1 latency and no sensitivity to gaze direction on midline-N170 amplitude compared to TD and ADHD. In contrast, children with ADHD (ADHD/ASD+ADHD) exhibited a reduced face inversion effect on P1 latency compared to TD and ASD. These findings suggest children with ASD have specific abnormalities in gaze processing and altered neural specialisation, whereas children with ADHD show abnormalities at early visual attention stages. Children with ASD+ADHD are an additive co-occurrence with deficits of both disorders. Elucidating the neural basis of the overlap between ASD and ADHD is likely to inform aetiological investigation and clinical assessment.

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