Neurodevelopmental Conditions

Neurodevelopmental Conditions

When Behaviour Justifies Further Steps

We all struggle at times with paying attention, impulsivity or becoming distractable, especially on tasks that we don’t find interesting. All of us have found ourselves in situations when we procrastinate, plan poorly and execute disappointingly or make risky decisions that we end up regretting. All of us have experienced increased anxiety, low mood or fluctuating affect as well as interpersonal conflict with our friends, peers, colleagues and loved ones. We have all been ‘hangry’ and easily agitated, especially when sleep deprived. But we also realise when we are not ourselves and more importantly, know when to employ strategies and make ourselves adjust our behaviour, so that we can achieve what we have been asked to.

Neuroatypical children, adolescents and adults, experience profound difficulties with regulating and sustaining their attention, especially on tasks that are mundane. They also struggle with planning and execution of tasks that are familiar, such as daily routines and tasks like homework. They tend to rely disproportionately on adult scaffolding and guidance during lessons and homework time, often procrastinating or displaying oppositional or stubborn behaviour with their parents. Next to being disorganised, such children are forgetful, forever losing or misplacing their belonging, despite frequent reminders. As such, neurotypical children are often considered to lack in maturity and can experience delay in developmental milestones. 


Although the levels of displayed physical activity tend to decrease with age, the experienced impulsivity continues, with low-grade fidgeting, squirming or touching of things that is often distractive to their environment. It is important to realise that with age (hyper)activity tends to transfer into the cognitive realm, often leading to unhealthy cognitive thinking patterns.

Poor impulse control is another indicator as is difficulty dealing with change and cognitive rigidity that can lead to emotional (over)reactions and meltdowns. Intensely-felt emotions, mood swings, feelings of injustice/fairness, cognitive inflexibility and emotional dysregulation play a big part in neurodiverse conditions, often leading to difficulties with peer relationships and friendships as well as increased family conflict.

In the following section you will find information about attention deficit and autism spectrum condition, which we hope you will helpful when considering whether more systemic evaluation would be beneficial.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is now a common and well-recognised behaviour disorder that affects millions of children, adolescents and adults across the world. ADHD is a condition that affects those parts of the brain that control attention, impulses and concentration and can occur with or without hyperactivity. ADHD develops in early childhood. Research suggests that majority of children with ADHD continue to experience symptoms during adolescence and adulthood. Symptoms are not seen to the same degree in all people diagnosed with the condition.

Clinicians recognise three types of people with ADHD:

There is no single cause of ADHD. Research suggests that neurobiological factors play a role due to changes in parts of the brain involved with ‘executive functioning’ (responsible for impulse control and concentration amongst other things). Genetic and environmental factors are also thought to be important, although ADHD is not caused by poor parenting.

Children with ADHD have deficits in self-care and adaptive functioning that are disparate from their level of intelligence. The deficits due to ADHD are primarily in the domains of daily living and are closely associated with the degree of executive dysfunction. Children with ADHD manifest lower preschool academic readiness skills, lower achievement skills as well as performance deficits. Children and teens with ADHD show deficits in reading, maths, spelling and handwriting competencies as well as a higher probability of qualifying for a learning difficulty (SpLD). A child with official ADHD diagnosis is entitled to receive support with learning and academic work as well as a number of learning accommodations.

Children with attention deficit often experience peer and family/sibling relationship problems as they are less likely to be accepted by the broader peer group. They are more socially busy and emotionally intense, which may create more opportunities to negative social interactions with peers or difficulty with maintaining friendships. High levels of family conflict is common and can lead to marital dissatisfaction. Aggressive behaviour is more common in children with the combined presentation of ADHD or comorbid ODD and CD.


Children with ADHD demonstrate a distinct pattern of social-information processing – they encode fewer social cues, have greater difficulty interpreting social situations and generate fewer effective social responses. Children with ADHD are more likely to have sleep difficulties, including greater time to fall asleep, frequent night waking, relentlessness during sleep, sleep-disordered breathing and increased grogginess the following day.

Adolescents and adults with undiagnosed attention deficit struggle with procrastination, hyperfocus (becoming absorbed in an activity), poor time keeping and management, poor note taking, poor self-organisation and planning, forgetfulness, impulsivity and intolerance of boredom as well as constantly seeking and starting new activities, inconsistent presentation, difficulty listening to what the lecturer is saying, writing essays and feeling too intensly. Individuals with official ADHD diagnosis are entitled to receive support with learning and academic work as well as a number of accommodations.


If the above leaves the reader somewhat deflated, it is important to keep in mind that attention deficit brings with it many positive traits, such as being (this is not an exhaustive list:

ADHD and autism spectrum condition (ASC) often overlap. Some children with ADHD who don’t qualify for an autism diagnosis may still demonstrate autism-like traits and vice versa.

Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC)

Autism or autism spectrum condition (ASC) is a lifelong developmental disability, which affects how people communicate and interact with the world. One in 80-100 people are on the autism spectrum and there are around 700,000 (diagnosed) autistic adults and children in the UK (NAS, 2020). More men and boys are currently diagnosed with autism than women and girls. This is partially due to the fact that the fact that girls ‘exhibit’ their autism differently from boys, i.e. are more adept at ‘masking’, are more driven by their desire for social connection than autistic boys and have more socially acceptable social interests.

Autism is a spectrum condition which means that it affects individuals in a different way, i.e. each autistic person exhibits their difficulties in an unique way. This means that each autistic person is different and despite sharing similar neurodiverse profile, each autistic individual will require unique set of interventions and coping strategies to function effectively. It is important to realise that autism is not a medical condition but a form of ‘neurodevelopmental diversity’. Since autism is a spectrum condition it can span from non-verbal individuals who require substantial degree of care to highly functioning individuals who hold high-powered jobs.


A number of diagnostic criteria are considered before a diagnosis is given, such as:

There is no cure or treatment for autism and neither should be. Instead, it is vital to understand that exhibited behaviours are a reaction to or are triggered by a change in environment or situation. As autistic individuals experience significantly higher levels of anxiety, any change, even a minor one, that can trigger a reaction. Increasing awareness about autism among family members, friends, teachers or anyone who comes in regular contact with autistic individuals is key to improving their quality of life. Even small changes can lead to huge improvement, not only in learning and academic progress, but also in overall quality of life of for individuals on the autism spectrum. Individuals with official ASC diagnosis are entitled to receive support with learning and academic work as well as a number of learning accommodations.


Among strengths of individuals with autism are (this too is not an exhaustive list) being:

We are currently working on several interesting projects about attention deficit and autism in children and adolescents for which we welcome parental participation through completion of standardised measures. All input is treated in strictest confidence and in accordance with UCL’s research policies, incl. research ethics. All results are analysed as an anonymous aggregate and such it is not possible to trace input to an individual. If you are suspecting that your child may have attention deficit, your participation will provide you with invaluable input! In addition, if you an adult who suspects that you may have attention deficit or have recently received a diagnosis and would like to get involved into our adult attention deficit project, do get in touch!

Please email us at to find out how you can get involved and how you can help us increase understanding of neurodiverse conditions in children, adolescents and adults. We remain open to speaking and lecturing invitations as well as publishing opportunities.