Autism Linked To Stress Hormones

Photo: Autistic little girl sitting in a swing

AS children have a disordered
hormonal balance; © SXC

Normally, people have a surge of this hormone shortly after waking, with levels gradually decreasing throughout the day. It is thought this surge makes the brain alert, preparing the body for the day and helping the person to be aware of changes happening around them.

However, a new study has found that children with Asperger Syndrome (AS) do not experience this surge. The researchers believe these findings may help to explain why individuals with this condition have difficulties with minor changes to their routine or changes in their environment.

“Cortisol is one of a family of stress hormones that acts like a ‘red alert’ that is triggered by stressful situations allowing a person to react quickly to changes around them”, lead researcher Mark Brosnan explained. “In most people, there is a two-fold increase in levels of this hormone within 30 minutes of waking up, with levels gradually declining during the day as part of the internal body clock.”

He continues: “Our study found that the children with AS did not have this peak although levels of the hormone still decreased during the day as normal. Although these are early days, we think this difference in stress hormone levels could be really significant in explaining why children with AS are less able to react and cope with unexpected change.”

Julie Turner-Cobb, co-author on the study, said: “These findings are important as they give us a clearer understanding about how some of the symptoms we see in AS are linked to how an individual adapts to change at a chemical level."

The researchers hope that by understanding the symptoms of AS as a stress response rather than a behavioural problem it could help carers and teachers develop strategies for avoiding situations that might cause distress in children with the condition.; Source: University of Bath