Millions of children are impacted by neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs), which unfold early in life, have varying genetic etiologies and can involve a variety of specific or generalized impairments in social, cognitive and motor functioning requiring potentially lifelong specialized supports. While specific disorders vary in their domain of primary deficit (e.g. autism spectrum disorder (social), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (attention), developmental coordination disorder (motor) and developmental language disorder (language)), comorbidities between NDDs are common. Intriguingly, many NDDs are associated with difficulties in skills related to rhythm, timing and synchrony though specific profiles of rhythm/timing impairments vary across disorders. Impairments in rhythm/timing may instantiate vulnerabilities for a variety of NDDs and may contribute to both the primary symptoms of each disorder as well as the high levels of comorbidities across disorders. Drawing upon genetic, neural, behavioural and interpersonal constructs across disorders, we consider how disrupted rhythm and timing skills early in life may contribute to atypical developmental cascades that involve overlapping symptoms within the context of a disorder's primary deficits. Consideration of the developmental context, as well as common and unique aspects of the phenotypes of different NDDs, will inform experimental designs to test this hypothesis including via potential mechanistic intervention approaches.
This article is part of the theme issue ‘Synchrony and rhythm interaction: from the brain to behavioural ecology’.