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Polygenic Contributions of ADHD and ASD to School Performance and Educational Attainment


Polygenic Contributions of ADHD and ASD to School Performance and Educational Attainment
Polygenic Contributions of ADHD and ASD to School Performance and Educational Attainment

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are neurodevelopmental conditions that significantly impact educational outcomes. Both disorders have a strong genetic basis, which overlaps with educational attainment (EA). This study delves into how polygenic scores for EA, ADHD, and ASD correlate with school performance, offering insights into the genetic influences on academic success and early psychopathological manifestations.


Dissecting the Polygenic Contributions of ADHD and ASD to School Performance

ADHD and ASD, complex neurodevelopmental disorders, share a genetic basis that also intersects with educational attainment (EA). This study aims to unravel the polygenic contributions of ADHD and ASD to school performance, exploring how these genetic influences manifest in academic success and early psychopathological traits.

The research utilizes polygenic scores (PGS) for EA, ADHD, and ASD to analyze their association with school performance in a cohort of 4,278 school-aged children. The study investigates whether the genetic predisposition for EA influences the genetic liabilities of ADHD and ASD and evaluates the role of EA in the genetic overlap between these disorders and early psychopathology.

Key Findings

  1. Polygenic scores (PGS) for Educational Attainment (EA) have shown a positive correlation with academic performance. Specifically, higher PGS for EA are linked to better outcomes in subjects such as mathematics, foreign languages, and primary language. This indicates that genetic predispositions that favor educational attainment can enhance performance across a range of academic disciplines.

  2. Conversely, PGS for ADHD exhibit an inverse relationship with school performance. Students with higher genetic predispositions for ADHD tend to perform worse in mathematics, foreign languages, and primary language. This correlation underscores the challenges that ADHD symptoms can present in academic settings, potentially hindering learning and achievement.

  3. Interestingly, the study found no significant association between PGS for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and school performance. This suggests that, unlike EA and ADHD, the genetic factors contributing to ASD do not have a direct impact on academic outcomes. This lack of correlation highlights the unique nature of ASD and its effects on learning and education.


  4. Genetic variations that have concordant effects in both ASD and EA contribute positively to school performance. This means that genetic factors that promote educational attainment also tend to enhance academic success in individuals with ASD. These overlapping genetic influences can lead to improved performance in school.

  5. On the other hand, discordant genetic effects, where the genetic influences on ADHD or ASD conflict with those on EA, are associated with poorer school performance. Such discordant effects can lead to increased emotional and behavioral problems, further impacting educational outcomes. This highlights the complex interplay between genetic factors and their varied effects on different aspects of development.


  6. Symptoms of ADHD partially mediate the relationship between genetic liabilities for ADHD and school performance. This mediation means that the presence of ADHD symptoms can exacerbate the negative impact of genetic predispositions on academic outcomes. Therefore, managing ADHD symptoms is crucial for improving school performance in affected individuals.

  7. Similarly, ASD symptoms also mediate the relationship between genetic liabilities for ASD and school performance. Variations with concordant effects in ASD and EA are associated with better academic outcomes, suggesting that genetic factors promoting both ASD and educational attainment can lead to positive educational results. Conversely, discordant variations are linked to poorer academic outcomes and higher rates of psychopathology, indicating a need for targeted interventions to address these challenges.


This study underscores the significance of understanding the polygenic contributions of ADHD and ASD to school performance. The findings highlight the role of EA in mediating the genetic overlap between these disorders and early psychopathology, providing valuable insights into the genetic mechanisms underlying educational outcomes. These insights could inform strategies for educational interventions and support for children with ADHD and ASD.

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