PROVO, Utah (ABC4 Utah) – New research out of BYU is providing clues into the link between autism and aggression. Clues, the team hopes, will eventually lead to more effective intervention.

“Itsy bitsy spider climbed up the waterspout…” Nursery rhymes and reading time at Kids On The Move look like fun and games, but these children are learning invaluable lessons that will shape their behavior for the rest of their lives.

Kids On The Move’s Autism Center provides applied behavior analysis for children with autism. One issue that this therapy helps with is aggression. “It’s hard you know,” said KOTM’s Autism Center’s Senior Supervisor Joe Dixon. “As we look at young kids, aggressive behavior are easier to maintain and deal with where a two year old hitting you, It’s much different than a 10,12, or 18 year old hitting you.”

For families with children with autism aggression can have the biggest negative impact on the family’s quality of life. That’s why BYU’s Autism Connect team decided to study the issue.

“It is enough to get kind of excited about, to think maybe we’re on to something here,” said Rebecca Lundwall study coauthor and BYU Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology and Neuroscience.

The team of researchers examined MRI images from two groups of children with autism. One group exhibited problematic levels of aggression and one group did not. “We found that only the brainstem was predictive of whether a child with autism was in the aggressive group or the non-aggressive group,” said Lundwall.

The smaller the brainstem, the greater the likelihood of aggression. Lundwall explained, “Why we think we’re on to something is because of what the brainstem does, so the brainstem controls things like breathing, and heart rate and it’s connected to emotion centers in the brain.”
While the findings are preliminary, this study may lead to more effective intervention.

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