Enhanced Cortisol Response to Stress in Children in Autism
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Children with Autism often show difficulties in adapting to change. Previous studies of cortisol, a neurobiologic stress hormone reflecting hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) axis activity, in children with autism have demonstrated variable results. This study measured cortisol levels in children with and without Autism: (1) at rest; (2) in a novel environment; and (3) in response to a blood draw stressor. A significantly higher serum cortisol response was found in the group of children with autism. Analysis showed significantly higher peak cortisol levels and prolonged duration and recovery of cortisol elevation following the blood-stick stressor in children with autism. This study suggests increased reactivity of the HPA axis to stress and novel stimuli in children with autism.