Cortical responses to social stimuli in infants at elevated likelihood of ASD and/or ADHD: A prospective cross-condition fNIRS study

Borja Blanco*, Sarah Lloyd-Fox, Jannath Begum-Ali, Laura Pirazzoli, Amy Goodwin, Luke Mason, Greg Pasco, Tony Charman, Emily J.H. Jones, Mark H. Johnson, Mary Agyapong, Tessel Bazelmans, Anna Blasi, Celeste Cheung, Leila Dafner, Mayada Elsabbagh, Mutluhan Ersoy, Teodora Gliga, Rianne Haartsen, Hanna HalkolaAlexandra Hendry, Rebecca Holman, Sarah Kalwarowsky, Anna Kolesnik, Nisha Narvekar, Chloë Taylor

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are highly prevalent neurodevelopmental conditions that often co-occur and present both common and distinct neurodevelopmental profiles. Studying the developmental pathways leading to the emergence of ASD and/or ADHD symptomatology is crucial in understanding neurodiversity and discovering the mechanisms that underpin it. This study used functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to investigate differences in cortical specialization to social stimuli between 4- to 6-month-old infants at typical and elevated likelihood of ASD and/or ADHD. Results showed that infants at both elevated likelihood of ASD and ADHD had reduced selectivity to vocal sounds in left middle and superior temporal gyrus. Furthermore, infants at elevated likelihood of ASD showed attenuated responses to visual social stimuli in several cortical regions compared to infants at typical likelihood. Individual brain responses to visual social stimuli were associated with later autism traits, but not ADHD traits. These outcomes support our previous observations showing atypical social brain responses in infants at elevated likelihood of ASD and align with later atypical brain responses to social stimuli observed in children and adults with ASD. These findings highlight the importance of characterizing antecedent biomarkers of atypicalities in processing socially relevant information that might contribute to both phenotypic overlap and divergence across ASD and ADHD conditions and their association with the later emergence of behavioural symptoms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)18-34
Number of pages17
Early online date15 Oct 2023
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • ADHD
  • ASD
  • fNIRS
  • Infants
  • Social stimuli

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