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Could This Study Help Explain Why Some People with Autism Engage in Aggressive Behavior?

People with autism sometimes exhibit challenging behaviors—one of the most difficult of which is aggression. This behavior is challenging enough when people with autism are children, but as they get older, it can become even more difficult because they are bigger and harder to control. We are in need of answers. What causes aggression in people with autism? And how can it be managed?

Luckily, a preliminary study from BYU, published in the journal, Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, has provided us with some potential answers. Researchers have found a link between aggression and brainstem size.

father and son conflict, problems in family

The study examined two groups of children with autism, one with problematic degrees of aggression and the other without. After examining MRIs of the kids’ brains, they found that the size of their brain stems accurately predicted whether or not they experienced this type of challenging behavior. The smaller the brainstem, the more likely they were to engage in aggressive behavior.

This study is preliminary yet promising. “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,” said the study’s co-author, Rebecca Lundwall.

Kevin Stephenson, another of the study’s authors, also said, “This is evidence that there’s something core and basic, this connection between aggression and autism.”

pr-adolescent en colre

More work needs to be done, of course, but this study offers hope to autism families, as it could be a stepping stone toward better treatments and ways to mitigate aggressive behavior.

Want to help fund more research like this?

Read on to learn what you can do.

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A. Stout received a Bachelor of Arts in Writing through Grand Valley State University, graduating Magna Cum Laude in 2015. In addition to being a passionate autism advocate, she is a member of various fandoms, a study abroad alumna, and an animal lover. She dreams of publishing novels and traveling all over the world someday.