Diagnostic and Physical Effects in Parasympathetic Response to Social Evaluation in Youth With and Without Autism Spectrum Disorder

J Autism Dev Disord. 2022 Aug;52(8):3427-3442. doi: 10.1007/s10803-021-05224-0. Epub 2021 Aug 3.


Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may demonstrate atypical autonomic (ANS) responses; however, research remains inconsistent. This study examined parasympathetic response during social evaluation in 241 youth (10-13 years) with ASD (n = 138) or typical development (TD; n = 103). Diagnosis, age, pubertal development, and body mass index (BMI) were hypothesized to be associated with ANS function. Linear mixed effects models demonstrated lower RSA in ASD relative to TD in a base model with no covariates. However, when accounting for differences in BMI, there was no evidence of atypical parasympathetic regulation in youth with ASD. As lower parasympathetic regulation may increase susceptibility for a number of conditions, it will be important to elucidate the link between BMI and the ANS, especially in ASD.

Keywords: Autonomic; Obesity; Parasympathetic; Puberty; Stress.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder* / diagnosis
  • Autonomic Nervous System
  • Humans