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Autism linked with stress hormone levels
Date:4/2/2009

Some of the symptoms of the autistic condition Asperger Syndrome, such as a need for routine and resistance to change, could be linked to levels of the stress hormone cortisol, suggests new research led by the University of Bath.

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 study led by Dr Mark Brosnan and Dr Julie Turner-Cobb from the Department of Psychology at the University of Bath, and Dr David Jessop from the University of Bristol, 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.

The study has been published in the peer-reviewed journal Psychoneuroendocrinology.

Dr Brosnan explained: "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.

"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.

"Our study found that the children with AS didn't 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."

Dr Julie Turner-Cobb, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Bath and co-author on the study, said: "These findings are important as they give us a clearer under
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Contact: Vicky Just
v.j.just@bath.ac.uk
44-012-253-86883
University of Bath
Source:Eurekalert

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