Probing the overarching continuum theory: data-driven phenotypic clustering of children with ASD or ADHD

Marie Deserno, Joe Bathelt, Annabeth Groenman, Hilde M. Geurts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The clinical validity of the distinction between ADHD and ASD is a longstanding discussion. Recent advances in the realm of data-driven analytic techniques now enable us to formally investigate theories aiming to explain the frequent co-occurrence of these neurodevelopmental conditions. In this study, we probe different theoretical positions by means of a pre-registered integrative approach of novel classification, subgrouping, and taxometric techniques in a representative sample (N = 434), and replicate the results in an independent sample (N = 219) of children (ADHD, ASD, and typically developing) aged 7–14 years. First, Random Forest Classification could predict diagnostic groups based on questionnaire data with limited accuracy—suggesting some remaining overlap in behavioral symptoms between them. Second, community detection identified four distinct groups, but none of them showed a symptom profile clearly related to either ADHD or ASD in neither the original sample nor the replication sample. Third, taxometric analyses showed evidence for a categorical distinction between ASD and typically developing children, a dimensional characterization of the difference between ADHD and typically developing children, and mixed results for the distinction between the diagnostic groups. We present a novel framework of cutting-edge statistical techniques which represent recent advances in both the models and the data used for research in psychiatric nosology. Our results suggest that ASD and ADHD cannot be unambiguously characterized as either two separate clinical entities or opposite ends of a spectrum, and highlight the need to study ADHD and ASD traits in tandem.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean child & adolescent psychiatry
Publication statusPublished - 10 Jun 2022

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