Our bodies tend to give off sweat when we react to a stressful environment or situation. In a new small study, researchers from the University of Missouri monitored the sweat reactions of adolescents with severe autism in order to better understand when behavioral issues such as aggression are likely to occur.
The study, published in Frontiers in Psychiatry, analyzed the stress levels of eight adolescents severely affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The adolescents were residents at The Center for Discovery, a facility in New York that provides advanced care and research for individuals with complex conditions.
Using wrist and ankle monitors, the researchers detected a rise in the body’s electrodermal activity — which results from increased levels of sweat — 60% of the time before a participant showed behavioral issues.
“A spike in electrodermal activity is telling us that the individual’s body is reacting physiologically to something that is stressful, which could be their internal state, something in the environment, or a combination of the two,” said Bradley Ferguson, assistant research professor in the departments of health psychology, radiology and the Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders.
“If parents or caregivers are notified ahead of time that their child’s stress levels are rising, they might have a chance to intervene and de-escalate the situation before problem behaviors occur.”
Ferguson says that possible intervention methods could involve removing the child from the environment or activity that is causing the stress, as well as providing access to an item that the child enjoys interacting with in an effort to calm them.
“Individuals who are severely affected by autism spectrum disorder are often unable to verbally communicate their discomfort when they become stressed,” Ferguson said.
“However, their body still responds to stressors just like anyone else. Therefore, being alerted to increases in electrodermal activity can allow parents and caregivers to intervene prior to engagement in problem behavior with the goal of ensuring the health and safety of those involved.”
Ferguson collaborated on the study with David Beversdorf, a professor of radiology, neurology and psychology in the MU College of Arts and Science as well as principal investigator of the Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory in the MU School of Medicine.
“Important work is being done to try to identify predictors for when a person with autism is at greatest risk of having a behavioral episode,” Beversdorf said.
“This research highlights the individual variability in this response that must be considered, and may also have implications for individualized treatment approaches moving forward.”
Source: University of Missouri-Columbia