Researchers at Brigham Young University have been looking at children with autism, trying to link aggression to the neurodevelopmental disorder. The goal of their latest study was to find clues that would lead to the possibility of getting more effective intervention.
In the study, which was published in Research in Autism Spectrum Disorder, researchers found that there was a negative correlation between the brain stem volume and aggression in children who have the disorder. Based on their findings, “the smaller the brain stem, the greater the likelihood of aggression.” While these findings are preliminary, they are still significant because of just how important the brain stem is in terms of its involvement in any number of autonomic activities. The brain stem is responsible for activities such as staying awake, regulating heart rate, and of course the most important activity, breathing.
With this new study, researchers have found evidence that the connection between autism and aggression is both basic and core. Kevin Stephenson, a student of clinical psychology at BYU and the coauthor of the study, said that these findings really are significant when it comes to potential intervention that is effective. At the same time, Terisa Gabrielsen, an assistant professor at the university and another of the study’s coauthors, said that if they are able to determine which part of the brain is different, as well as which of the primary functions that part of the brain controls, it can ultimately give researchers some clue into what they can do in order to better intervene.
While behavioral interventions are extremely important for children with autism, it is important to figure out exactly what the trigger is before it gets too bad. What researchers have been able to determine is that in some children, if the brain is not working nearly as efficient as it needs to, then they could pass the point of no return in terms of their aggression much sooner than average.
This is not the only study of its kind, and there are any number of studies that are either currently in the process of happening or are being planned. Specifically, the team is most interested in looking deeper into just how the brain stem connects to the functionality of other areas of the brain when it comes to children dealing with autism. With how interconnected the brain is, it makes sense that if one area of the brain is disrupted, then it is likely that others are as well. With these kinds of studies, it is likely that researchers could potentially find more effective means of handling the aggressive behavior that comes along with the disorder.
By Dorothea James
Photo Courtesy Bradley Slade