New insight into how experiences and features of neurodiversity vary among UK adults

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A new study has provided insight into how the experiences and characteristics of neurodiversity vary among adults in the UK.

All populations have variations in human characteristics and experiences. Neurodivergent people, such as those diagnosed with ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia or autism, may experience the world in unique ways. But, we are only beginning to appreciate how the characteristics and experiences associated with neurodivergence differ across populations.

Now, new research from the University of Birmingham has provided a more detailed picture of what neurodiversity looks like among UK adults.

The study was published JCPP progress

Ian Apperley, Professor of Cognition and Development and Director of the Center for Developmental Science at the University of Birmingham, who led the research, said: ‚ÄúPeople’s experience of neurodevelopmental conditions is highly variable, and it is common for people to have multiple conditions. Previous studies have found, for example, that the prevalence of ADHD among autistic people is about 40%.

“We also know that people show traits associated with neurodiversity to varying degrees across the population; it’s not just people with a diagnosed neurodevelopmental condition whose experiences are affected by these traits. What we don’t have is a detailed understanding of what that looks like. That’s important. raises questions that can inform our understanding of the complexity of neurodiversity across general populations.”

Professor Apperley and his team asked 1,000 representatives of the UK population aged 18-70 to report on their experiences of autism, ADHD, dyslexia and other conditions associated with the characteristics. For example:

  • Higher scores for traits associated with autism were associated with experiencing challenges with social and imaginative skills, a higher preference for routines, and attention to details, numbers, and patterns.
  • High scores for traits associated with ADHD were associated with a tendency for inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
  • High scores on cortical hyperexcitability were associated with visual sensitivity and abnormal visual experience.
  • Higher scores for traits associated with dyslexia were associated with lower fluency with reading and word finding.

Although traits associated with different neurodevelopmental conditions are often considered separately, research has shown that there is a high degree of overlap when tested at the same time, so people reporting high traits for one condition also tend to report experiences associated with other conditions.

However, research has found evidence of individual characteristics associated with specific conditions above and beyond this common shared neurodiversity.

We found that there is considerable overlap among broad traits associated with different neurodevelopmental conditions such that individuals with high levels of traits associated with one condition (eg, ADHD) are also more likely to have high levels of traits associated with other neurodevelopmental conditions (eg, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, tic disorder). But we also discovered that the same characteristics could be explained by different underlying factors. For example, some people reported high levels of various traits associated with autism, although they did not report high levels of neurodivergent traits overall, while other people reported high levels of traits associated with other conditions as well as high levels of autistic traits. And some combinations were particularly unusual. For example, people exhibiting high levels of traits associated with dyslexia and dyspraxia do not show a high interest in numbers and patterns.”

Ian Apperley, Professor of Knowledge and Development and Director of the Center for Developmental Science at the University of Birmingham

The study is the largest to date to explore the diversity of how traits associated with neurodevelopmental conditions are expressed in adults in the UK. The researchers say this provides critical benchmark data and a framework for examining neurodiversity in entire populations with one or more diagnoses.

Professor Apperley concluded: “Our findings help to understand the complexity of neurodiversity. They help us understand features and experiences that may be common across neurodevelopmental conditions, as well as those that are unique. People with the same diagnosis may have different features and experiences. How across populations By providing a picture of what neurodiversity looks like, this research can inform improvements for future studies in this area. The more we learn about other people’s experiences, the better we can understand each other.”


Journal Reference:

Apperly, IA, etc (2024). A transdiagnostic approach to neurodiversity in representative population samples: the N+ 4 model. JCPP progress.

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