Science 2 min read

White Matter the Link Between ASD, OCD, and ADHD

Tomorn Pukesorn |

Tomorn Pukesorn |

Developmental disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) may be common, but they are difficult to treat effectively. The disorders are best treated early in life and afflict 15 percent of American children.

ASD is most often characterized by social and behavioral challenges. According to the latest report by the CDC, one in 68 children or 1.46 percent suffers from the condition. OCD affects between 1 to 3 percent of the total population. People affected by OCD show compulsive behaviors that can distract from completing tasks and social functions. ADHD is the most common of these three conditions, affecting roughly 11 percent of children aged 4-17 as of 2011.

“treatments targeting a spectrum of behaviors may be relevant for all three conditions.” -Dr. Evdokia Anagnostou

What do ASD, OCD, and ADHD Have in Common?

These three conditions share many characteristics, raising curiosity regarding their relation to one another. Many studies have investigated such a connection, but until now, results have not been conclusive.

A team of Canadian researchers from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s (CAMH) Campbell Family Mental Health Research Institute, the Hospital for Sick Children and Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital have found evidence of a connection between the conditions. Apparently, sufferers of these conditions exhibit similar impairments to connective tissues in the brain.

It’s all About White Matter

After imaging the white matter of 200 children with ASD, OCD, and ADHD, or no diagnosis, the team found “impairments in white matter in the main tract connecting the right and left hemispheres of the brain in children with either autism, ADHD or OCD, when compared to healthy children in the control group”. This area of white matter is the first to form in the brain early in life.

Children with ASD and ADHD showed more severe impairment in their white matter than those with OCD. The findings suggest that ASD and ADHD start developing early in life when the white matter tracts are undergoing rapid growth.

The damage to the white matter is the source of disorders and the greater the damage, the greater the handicap. According to Dr. Evdokia Anagnostou, the shared biology among the conditions is evidence that “treatments targeting a spectrum of behaviors may be relevant for all three conditions.”

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