Major study of autism and ADHD risk in siblings


Researchers at Birkbeck, University of London’s “Babylab” are launching a new £2.5 million project called Studying Autism and ADHD Risk in Siblings (STAARS) which will map brain development from birth in order to identify the earliest signs of these lifelong social communication and attention disorders.

Professor Mark Johnson’s team will involve over 400 families from across Europe and the UK. The research will focus on infants who have older siblings with autism or ADHD, as these infants are at particularly high risk for these disorders.

This study will build on Babylab’s published 2012 research which detected signs of autism in babies as young as six months old. Although parents may notice symptoms of these conditions from infancy, children are often not diagnosed until they are in nursery or school. Earlier diagnosis of these children would help make it possible to design earlier and more effective interventions that may prevent symptoms from developing, and improve the quality of life for individuals with autism/ADHD and their families.

Over the next five years, the team will use neuroimaging, cognitive and behavioural tests to study infants from birth to being toddlers. Researchers will observe how the infants behave in play-based assessments, and how they perform in various experimental tasks. The experiences and opinions of families taking part in the study will also be sought through questionnaires and interviews.

At three years, children will be assessed for symptoms of autism and ADHD by a team led by Professor Tony Charman from the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London. The STAARS team believe that examining the earlier data from those infants who later go on to show signs of autism or ADHD will reveal the mechanisms behind these developmental disorders.

The team hopes to identify the earliest signs of autism and ADHD, which will in turn allow for much earlier diagnosis of the conditions, and the design of more effective interventions, aimed at improving the quality of life for individuals with autism/ADHD and their families.

For more information on the project, visit:


SEN News Team
Author: SEN News Team

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