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Duke receives $12.5 million to study children with autism and ADHD

Thursday, September 7, 2017
By Samiha Khanna
Geraldine Dawson and Scott Kollins

DURHAM, N.C. – Duke researchers will lead a $12.5 million, five-year program to study connections between autism and attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), joining five other universities as a National Institutes of Health Autism Center of Excellence.

Having both autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and ADHD can lead to more severe autism symptoms in young children, including tantrums, greater challenges at school and trouble making friends. There is little research on the estimated half of individuals with ASD who also have ADHD.

“Young children with autism who also have ADHD are diagnosed with autism at a much later age and have poorer outcomes,” said Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., a co-principal investigator for the grant and director of the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development. “Children with both conditions are 30 times more likely to receive a diagnosis of autism after age 6, which is a shame because we are able to diagnose autism reliably by 24 months. We want to understand why these children are being missed and help them get early interventions.”

Duke researchers across disciplines -- including psychology, psychiatry, neuroscience, engineering, computer science and public policy -- will launch three major projects designed to improve early detection and treatment of children with autism and ADHD.

The first project will follow about 9,000 infants and toddlers visiting Duke primary care clinics to identify those with symptoms of ASD, ADHD, or both. They will compare symptoms, progression and overall health outcomes, and test new screening tools. They will also probe racial and ethnic disparities in early diagnosis and strategies to reduce them.