M Brosnan, J Turner-Cobb, Z Munro-Naan & D Jessop (2009) “Absence of a normal Cortisol Awakening Response (CAR) in adolescent males with Asperger Syndrome (AS)”
is published online in Psychoneuroendocrinology.
Cortisol is viewed as the stress hormone. 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. It is thought the’ cortisol surge’ makes the brain alert, preparing the body for the day and helping the person to be aware of changes happening around them.
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 hope that by understanding the symptoms of AS as a stress response rather than a behavioural problem it could help practitioners develop strategies for avoiding situations that might cause distress in children and adults who are on the spectrum. This study is interesting as it is one of the first which examines the possible biological markers of stress and its relationship to autism. Dr Michael McCreadie who is the director of the ATLASS programme views autism as fundamentally a stress related condition. He has had considerable success in developing stress management strategies for both carers and staff of people on the autistic spectrum. Dr McCreadie says “Viewing people as victims of stress can actually be quite liberating as its provides an explanation for some of the more unusual features of autism, such as repetitive behaviours.”