Five to ten percent of children and young people have neurodevelopmental conditions such as autism and ADHD. Many of them experience disabilities, mental health problems and reduced life satisfaction that persist into adulthood. People with neurodevelopmental conditions can have healthy, meaningful and happy lives, but early and high-quality support is essential to achieve these outcomes for as many as possible. Difficulties and disabilities associated with neurodevelopmental conditions usually appear early and unfold during childhood when the family environment is the child's most important context. Therefore, the family environment can be a key to preventing persisting or worsening difficulties and disabilities. Good support can prevent cascades of negative developmental processes in the family environment which can lead to lifelong difficulties if they are not dealt with early. The family environment can also contribute positively to children’s outcomes in relation to schooling, independence, mental health, and life satisfaction. There are nevertheless important gaps in knowledge about how children with neurodevelopmental conditions develop in the context of the family environment. We aim to fill these knowledge gaps by using pioneering and interdisciplinary approaches to identify processes in the family environment that affect children's development. The Norwegian Mother, Father and Child Cohort Study (MoBa) gives us a unique opportunity for new insight because it includes more than 100,000 children and their families with long-term follow-up through questionnaires and national registers from birth to adulthood. To increase the relevance and usefulness of our research, we will ensure participation and insight from people with neurodevelopmental diagnoses, family members, healthcare personnel and other stakeholders. The goal is to obtain new insights that can contribute to better support for children with neurodevelopmental conditions and their families.
Neurodevelopmental conditions, such as diagnoses and traits of autism, ADHD, language, motor and learning disabilities, occur in 5-10% of individuals, and the prevalence of children with identified support needs for neurodevelopmental conditions is increasing. Early intervention is considered key to preventing impairments and improving trajectories because neurodevelopmental conditions are likely to have cascading effects on later development and experiences throughout the lifespan. Neurodevelopmental conditions usually emerge in the first years of life and develop across childhood when the family is the primary environmental context. Within-family processes that promote or disrupt developmental cascades associated with neurodevelopmental conditions can be prime targets for early intervention, yet are notoriously difficult to delineate among the broad array of non-causal within-family associations with which they co-occur. Developing the capacity to move beyond simply cataloging risk factors associated with the emergence and development of neurodevelopmental conditions and begin mapping pathways of causality, interconnection, and modifiability is pivotal for advancing the field and translating insights into interventions. In CASCADES, I aim to achieve this by employing a pioneering cross-disciplinary approach that integrates theoretical models from developmental psychology with innovative genetic epidemiological and causal inference methods. The CASCADES team will implement cutting-edge genetically informed methods and leverage unique resources of genomic and rich, prospective longitudinal data on more than 100,000 children and their families. The goal is to generate novel insights essential to inform prevention of the cascades of developmental processes that occur within families and that can lead to lifelong impairments if not tackled early.