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Comorbidity of ADHD and High-functioning Autism

A Pilot Study on the Utility of the Overflow Movements Measure

PITZIANTI, MARIABERNARDA, MD; D’AGATI, ELISA, MD; PONTIS, MARCO, PhD; BARATTA, ANTONIA, MD; CASARELLI, LIVIA, MD; SPIRIDIGLIOZZI, SIMONETTA, PhD; CURATOLO, PAOLO, MD; PASINI, AUGUSTO, MD

Journal of Psychiatric Practice®: January 2016 - Volume 22 - Issue 1 - p 22–30
doi: 10.1097/PRA.0000000000000120
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Objectives: Children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and high-functioning autism (HFA) commonly show neurological soft signs (NSS) and impairment in executive functioning (EF). Many children with HFA may experience ADHD-like symptoms, and the 2 disorders may be comorbid. Evaluating NSS and EF in drug-naive subjects with ADHD, HFA, and ADHD+HFA compared with healthy children may be critical in understanding and differentiating the biological substrates and cognitive phenotypes associated with these disorders. The goal of this study was to evaluate possible differences among these groups in motor and EF and the effects of comorbidity.

Methods: Thirty-eight drug-naive patients (13 with ADHD, 13 with HFA, 12 with ADHD+HFA) and 13 healthy controls (HC) were evaluated on measures of planning, verbal working memory, and response inhibition. Evaluation of NSS involved 3 primary variables: overflow movements (OM), dysrhythmia, and speed of timed activities.

Results: The group with ADHD and the group with HFA both showed impairment on measures of planning, response inhibition, and verbal working memory compared with the HC group. Moreover, the group with ADHD showed a greater number of NSS compared with the HC group, whereas the group with HFA showed greater dysrhythmia and slowness compared with the HC group. The group with ADHD+HFA showed deficits of planning and response inhibition and a greater number of NSS compared with the HC group. The group with ADHD+HFA showed greater impairment of planning compared with the other clinical groups and greater dysrhythmia compared with the group with ADHD.

Conclusion: According to our data, the OM measure revealed a gradient in which ADHD was at one extreme (more OM) and HFA at the other extreme (less OM), whereas ADHD+HFA showed a number of OM that fell in the middle between the numbers for the ADHD and HFA groups.

PITZIANTI, D’AGATI, BARATTA, CASARELLI, SPIRIDIGLIOZZI, CURATOLO, and PASINI: Department of Systems Medicine, Unit of Child Neurology and Psychiatry, “Tor Vergata” University of Rome, Rome, Italy

PONTIS: Comprehensive Rehabilitation Center, University of Cagliari, Cagliari, Italy

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Please send correspondence to: Augusto Pasini, MD, Department of Systems Medicine, Unit of Child Neurology and Psychiatry, “Tor Vergata” University of Rome, Via Nomentana 1362, Rome 00137, Italy (e-mail: pasini@uniroma2.it).

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