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BioMed Research International
Volume 2015 (2015), Article ID 672784, 16 pages
Review Article

Using Sibling Designs to Understand Neurodevelopmental Disorders: From Genes and Environments to Prevention Programming

1Department of Applied Psychology and Human Development, University of Toronto, 252 Bloor Street W., Toronto, ON, Canada M5S 1V6
2Department of Psychology, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW, Calgary, AB, Canada T2N 1N4

Received 12 March 2015; Revised 5 June 2015; Accepted 28 June 2015

Academic Editor: Ping I. Lin

Copyright © 2015 Mark Wade et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Neurodevelopmental disorders represent a broad class of childhood neurological conditions that have a significant bearing on the wellbeing of children, families, and communities. In this review, we draw on evidence from two common and widely studied neurodevelopmental disorders—autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—to demonstrate the utility of genetically informed sibling designs in uncovering the nature and pathogenesis of these conditions. Specifically, we examine how twin, recurrence risk, and infant prospective tracking studies have contributed to our understanding of genetic and environmental liabilities towards neurodevelopmental morbidity through their impact on neurocognitive processes and structural/functional neuroanatomy. It is suggested that the siblings of children with ASD and ADHD are at risk not only of clinically elevated problems in these areas, but also of subthreshold symptoms and/or subtle impairments in various neurocognitive skills and other domains of psychosocial health. Finally, we close with a discussion on the practical relevance of sibling designs and how these might be used in the service of early screening, prevention, and intervention efforts that aim to alleviate the negative downstream consequences associated with disorders of neurodevelopment.