Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

, Volume 33, Issue 4, pp 417–426

Paradoxical Autonomic Response to Mental Tasks in Autism


    • Division of Child & Adolescent PsychiatryCase Western Reserve University/University Hospitals of Cleveland
    • Health and Medical Services CenterShiga University
  • Yoko Kamio
    • Department of Neuropsychiatry, Faculty of MedicineKyoto Graduate University

DOI: 10.1023/A:1025062812374

Cite this article as:
Toichi, M. & Kamio, Y. J Autism Dev Disord (2003) 33: 417. doi:10.1023/A:1025062812374


Autonomic responses to mental tasks requiring sustained attention were examined in individuals with autism and age- and ability-matched controls. Cardiac autonomic function (CAF) was evaluated based on heart rate variability. While the control group showed a significant decrease in the parasympathetic function during mental tasks, the autistic group showed no significant changes in CAF. When examined individually, parasympathetic function was suppressed in all subjects in the control group. On the other hand, parasympathetic function was activated in half of the autistic subjects. The paradoxical autonomic response suggests that some autistic subjects were more stressed under ‘resting’ conditions than while performing mechanical or repetitive mental tasks. The results seem to support autonomic hyperarousal in some people with autism.

Autismautonomic functionattentionheart ratemental taskvigilance
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© Plenum Publishing Corporation 2003