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Attention and inhibition in children with ASD, ADHD and co-morbid ASD + ADHD: an event-related potential study

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 May 2013

C. Tye*
MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, UK Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, UK
P. Asherson
MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, UK
K. L. Ashwood
Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, UK
B. Azadi
Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, UK
P. Bolton
MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, UK Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, UK
G. McLoughlin
MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, UK Swartz Center for Computational Neuroscience, Institute for Neural Computation, University of California, San Diego, CA, USA
*Address for correspondence: C. Tye, Ph.D., MRC Social, Genetic and Developmental Psychiatry Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK. (Email:



Substantial overlap has been reported between attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Deficits in executive function (EF) are characteristic of both disorders but these impairments have not been compared directly across pure and co-morbid cases using event-related potentials (ERPs).


Behavioural parameters and ERPs were recorded during a flankered cued-continuous performance test (CPT-OX) administered to 8–13-year-old boys with ASD (n = 19), ADHD (n = 18), co-morbid ASD + ADHD (n = 29) and typically developing controls (TD; n = 26). Preparatory processing (contingent negative variation, CNV) and attentional orienting (Cue-P3) at cues, response execution at targets (Go-P3), inhibitory processing at non-targets (NoGo-P3) and conflict monitoring between target and non-target trials (Go-N2 v. NoGo-N2) were examined.


Categorical diagnoses and quantitative trait measures indicated that participants with ADHD (ADHD/ASD + ADHD) made more omission errors and exhibited increased reaction-time (RT) variability and reduced amplitude of the Cue-P3 and NoGo-P3 compared to TD/ASD participants. Participants with ASD (ASD/ ASD + ADHD) demonstrated reduced N2 enhancement from Go to NoGo trials compared to TD/ADHD participants. Participants with ASD-only displayed enhanced CNV amplitude compared to ASD + ADHD and TD participants.


Children with ADHD show deficits in attentional orienting and inhibitory control whereas children with ASD show abnormalities in conflict monitoring and response preparation. Children with co-morbid ASD + ADHD present as an additive co-occurrence with deficits of both disorders, although non-additive effects are suggested for response preparation. Measuring ERPs that index attention and inhibition is useful in disentangling cognitive markers of ASD and ADHD and elucidating the basis of co-occurring ASD + ADHD to guide clinical assessment.

Original Articles
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013 

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