Show/hide main menu

Autism and Related Disorders

Current Projects

In this section, you can learn about the research projects which are currently taking place within the Autism and Related Disorders team. Please click on the title headings to find out more.

 

Social Relationships Study (SR Study)

The Social Relationships Study (SR Study) began in 2007 with the aim of examining the presence of ASD within the full Twins Early Development Study (TEDS) sample. All of the families in TEDS where one or both twins were reported to have ASD, or showed high ASD traits on previous assessments, were invited to take part in the SR Study. Additionally, to address possible selection bias, a mail-out was undertaken to all child psychiatrists in the UK and advertisements were placed with the National Autistic Society and the Twins and Multiple Birth Association to find any twins with ASD in the required age range who might have been missed by, or dropped out of, TEDS. The SR Study involved lengthy home visits at 12-14 years with a task battery including full diagnostic assessment for ASD, cognitive testing (IQ, Theory of Mind, Central Coherence, Executive Function), language measures and a number of measures aimed at gaining information about parental attitudes and concerns, as well as detailed information about pregnancy, birth and any pre- or perinatal complications. In all, the SR Study worked with 146 families where one or both of the twins had ASD (as diagnosed using the gold-standard measures of the ADOS and ADI-R) as well as 80 comparison families with twins selected for low ASD traits. (Key references: Brunsdon et al., 2014; Colvert et al., in press; Hallett et al., 2013.)

Funding:

Medical Research Council

Collaborators:

Professor Francesca Happé

Dr Fruhling Rijsdijk

Twins Early Development Study 

TS 2000 Study

TS2000-logoTuberous Sclerosis (TS) is a rare genetic disease that causes non-malignant tumours to grow in the skin, brain and other organs. The Tuberous Sclerosis 2000 Cohort Study (TS 2000) is the first comprehensive UK prospective longitudinal study of TS, which has the aim of charting the natural history of TS and identifying factors that determine intellectual, cognitive and psychiatric outcomes. The study recruited 125 children between 2001 and 2006 and as soon as possible after diagnosis in order to collect good quality data on early development. Phase 2 of the study is currently underway and has a focus on cognitive and behavioural outcomes, including intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). We are collecting extensive data, including genetic, medical (e.g., epilepsy; MRI brain scans; EEG), cognitive, and behavioural. We hope this will enable us to map out risk pathways in TS, from genes, through brain pathology, to cognition and behaviour.

Website: http://www.tuberoussclerosis2000.co.uk/home.html

Funding:

Autism Speaks, Baily Thomas Charitable Trust, Tuberous Sclerosis Association

Collaborators:   

Professor John Yates 

Professor Julian Sampson 

Professor David Edwards 

Professor Serena Counsell 

Centre for the Developing Brain

Biomarkers of Childhood-Onset Neurodevelopmental Disorders
(BioNeD)

Evidence has accumulated to suggest behavioural, neurocognitive and genetic overlap between autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but there is limited work directly comparing children with comorbid (co-occurring) ASD+ADHD to the single diagnoses. In the BioNeD project, we administered an extensive battery to over 100 comprehensively assessed children aged 7-16 years with ASD, ADHD and comorbid ASD+ADHD. Our battery included measures of executive function, social cognition, eye-tracking and event-related potentials (ERPs), as well as information on pre- and peri-natal factors and genetics. Our findings to date have suggested that ASD and ADHD can be dissociated on the basis of ERP responses, while children with ASD+ADHD present as an additive co-occurrence with the unique deficits of each condition. The ultimate goal of this work is to elucidate gene-brain-behaviour pathways to neurodevelopmental disorders in order to design more specific treatment strategies.

Funding:

National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) at the South London and Maudsley NHS Trust; Waterloo Foundation; Steel Charitable Trust

Collaborators:

Professor Philip Asherson

Dr Karen Ashwood  

Dr Grainne McLoughlin

Cognitive Neurophysiology Lab

Neural connectivity in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Our understanding of the complex genetic and brain basis of ASD and ADHD is limited, but recent research has pointed to the importance of abnormalities in the development of wiring in key parts of brain circuitry. In this study, funded by Action Medical Research, we are using electroencephalography (EEG), which measures the naturally occurring electrical signals produced by brain activity. Our main aims are to (1) identify altered neural connectivity patterns that underlie ASD, ADHD and their co-occurrence from data already collected with the BioNeD Study; and (2) determine whether the same patterns are found in children with Tuberous Sclerosis (TS) recruited from the TS 2000 Study. Because TS has a known cause, it is much less complex and is likely to reveal more about the gene-brain-behaviour pathways to ASD and ADHD.

Funding:

Action Medical Research

Collaborators:

Professor Mark Johnson 

Professor Tony Charman  

Dr Grainne McLoughlin 

Cognitive Neurophysiology Lab

Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck  

Intra-individual variability in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and
attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Children with ASD and ADHD often demonstrate similar poor performance on cognitive tasks, particularly shown in a highly variable time taken to make certain decisions. This variability has been linked to lower levels of arousal in children with ADHD, and appears to improve when children with ADHD are exposed to rewards, but we don’t know whether similar or different mechanisms operate in ASD. In this project, funded by the Royal Society, we will address this research gap, by applying cutting-edge statistical analysis to response time data, developed in collaboration with Dr Katherine Johnson at the University of Melbourne. These analyses enable us to break down response time into different components that are more closely related to underlying processes in the brain. Using these response time measures, we will then examine the associations between EEG-indexed arousal levels and task performance. 

Funding:

Royal Society

Collaborators:

Dr Katherine Johnson 

Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences

Early Development in Tuberous Sclerosis (EDiTS)

Tuberous Sclerosis (TS) is associated with variable outcomes in later childhood, including problems in social communication (e.g. autism spectrum disorder), attention (e.g. attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), executive function (e.g. shifting attention) and cognitive ability (e.g. intellectual disability). Little is known about how development in TS changes in the early years, and how the behavioural and cognitive problems are influenced by certain factors, such as epilepsy, very early in life. This is because previous work has asked parents to try to recall what their child was like in the first two years, and also because the tests used were not sensitive enough to these changes. The suggestion that new treatments can be given to babies with TS also highlights the need for a tailored procedure to systematically chart their development. In this study, we are aiming to design and test this procedure in babies with TS from 0-24 months of age, and compare their developmental trajectories to those of typically developing babies. Within the test battery, we will include novel and sensitive state-of-the-art “eye-tracking” tests that can be administered both in the research laboratory or clinic, and at home, in collaboration with the Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development (CBCD) at Birkbeck. These tests are able to tell us more about social and attentional problems in TS, even before the baby is able to respond to experimental tasks or speak. The results from this study will help us to understand how babies with TS develop, which factors are linked to behavioural outcome, and the effects of treatment very early in life.

Funding:

Tuberous Sclerosis Association Junior Fellowship

Collaborators:

Professor Mark Johnson 

Dr Emily Jones 

Professor Tony Charman 

Professor David Edwards 

Professor Serena Counsell 

Centre for Brain and Cognitive Development, Birkbeck 

Centre for the Developing Brain

INTER-STAARS

Psychological treatments for attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) initiated after disorder onset have had only limited success. Preventative approaches implemented in infancy have been championed but not tested or implemented successfully. In INTER-STAARS we will undertake a randomised controlled trial of a novel, developmental neuroscience approach to early intervention for infants at familial risk for ADHD. This intervention targets infant attention control – a putative early marker of ADHD pathophysiology. Training involves innovative gaze-contingent tasks that have been used to train attention control in typically developing infants (Wass et al., 2011). The current trial aims to (i) establish that similar gains can be made in infants at risk for ADHD; (ii) examine underlying neurocognitive mechanisms, and (iii) test whether these gains ameliorate emerging ADHD symptoms. To this purpose, fifty 10-month-old infants at familial risk for ADHD will be randomized to either an attention training or a control condition. The intervention consists of twelve weekly ‘in home’ training sessions conducted over three months. Participants will be assessed in the laboratory and at home immediately pre- and post-training, with additional laboratory follow-up at 24 and 36 months. The primary endpoint will be performance on an untrained attention control task measured immediately post treatment. Secondary outcomes will include measures of other cognitive domains to assess transfer, and early emerging behavioural manifestations of ADHD. We will also investigate putative underlying mechanisms of change using electroencephalography (EEG) and psychophysiological arousal measures.

Funding:

MQ - Transforming Mental Health

 
 
 
Sitemap Site help Terms and conditions  Privacy policy  Accessibility  Modern slavery statement  Contact us

© 2020 King's College London | Strand | London WC2R 2LS | England | United Kingdom | Tel +44 (0)20 7836 5454