Alpha oscillatory activity during attentional control in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and ASD+ADHD

Roser Cañigueral*, Jason Palmer, Karen L. Ashwood, Bahar Azadi, Philip Asherson, Patrick F. Bolton, Gráinne McLoughlin, Charlotte Tye

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) share impairments in top-down and bottom-up modulation of attention. However, it is not yet well understood if co-occurrence of ASD and ADHD reflects a distinct or additive profile of attention deficits. We aimed to characterise alpha oscillatory activity (stimulus-locked alpha desynchronisation and prestimulus alpha) as an index of integration of top-down and bottom-up attentional processes in ASD and ADHD. Methods: Children with ASD, ADHD, comorbid ASD+ADHD, and typically-developing children completed a fixed-choice reaction-time task (‘Fast task’) while neurophysiological activity was recorded. Outcome measures were derived from source-decomposed neurophysiological data. Main measures of interest were prestimulus alpha power and alpha desynchronisation (difference between poststimulus and prestimulus alpha). Poststimulus activity linked to attention allocation (P1, P3), attentional control (N2), and cognitive control (theta synchronisation, 100–600 ms) was also examined. ANOVA was used to test differences across diagnostics groups on these measures. Spearman’s correlations were used to investigate the relationship between attentional control processes (alpha oscillations), central executive functions (theta synchronisation), early visual processing (P1), and behavioural performance. Results: Children with ADHD (ADHD and ASD+ADHD) showed attenuated alpha desynchronisation, indicating poor integration of top-down and bottom-up attentional processes. Children with ADHD showed reduced N2 and P3 amplitudes, while children with ASD (ASD and ASD+ADHD) showed greater N2 amplitude, indicating atypical attentional control and attention allocation across ASD and ADHD. In the ASD group, prestimulus alpha and theta synchronisation were negatively correlated, and alpha desynchronisation and theta synchronisation were positively correlated, suggesting an atypical association between attentional control processes and executive functions. Conclusions: ASD and ADHD are associated with disorder-specific impairments, while children with ASD+ADHD overall presented an additive profile with attentional deficits of both disorders. Importantly, these findings may inform the improvement of transdiagnostic procedures and optimisation of personalised intervention approaches.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and Allied Disciplines
Early online date3 Sept 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 3 Sept 2021


  • ADHD
  • attention
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • comorbidity


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