Background: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) share about 50–72% of their genetic factors, which is the most likely explanation for their frequent co-occurrence within the same patient or family. An additional or alternative explanation for the co-occurrence may be (cross-)assortative mating, e.g., the tendency to choose a partner that is similar or dissimilar to oneself. Another issue is that of parent-of-origin effect which refers to the possibility of parents differing in the relative quantity of risk factors they transmit to the offspring. The current study sets out to examine (cross-)assortative mating and (cross-)parent-of-origin effects of ASD and ADHD in parents of children with either ASD or ASD with ADHD diagnosis.
Methods: In total, 121 families were recruited in an ongoing autism-ADHD family genetics project. Participating families consisted of parents and at least one child aged between 2 and 20 years, with either autistic disorder, Asperger disorder or PDD-NOS, and one or more biological siblings. All children and parents were carefully screened for the presence of ASD and ADHD.
Results: No correlations were found between maternal and paternal ASD and ADHD symptoms. Parental ASD and ADHD symptoms were predictive for similar symptoms in the offspring, but with maternal hyperactive-impulsive symptoms, but not paternal symptoms, predicting similar symptoms in daughters. ASD pathology in the parents was not predictive for ADHD pathology in the offspring, but mother’s ADHD pathology was predictive for offspring ASD pathology even when corrected for maternal ASD pathology.
Conclusions: Cross-assortative mating for ASD and ADHD does not form an explanation for the frequent co-occurrence of these disorders within families. Given that parental ADHD is predictive of offspring’ ASD but not vice versa, risk factors underlying ASD may overlap to a larger degree with risk factors underlying ADHD than vice versa. However, future research is needed to clarify this issue.