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BYU study sheds light on connection between aggression, autism

(KUTV) A new BYU study is shedding some light on autism.

Researchers looked at the brain of autistic children to see if they could understand why some of those children are aggressive. They found the brain stem was smaller in autistic children who have aggressive tendencies.

Terisa Gabrielsen, an assistant professor of psychology at Brigham Young University, had a leading role in the study. She said this discovery is important and could lead to critical future insights.

"If we know where to look and what to do, we might be able to get aggression under control at a very early age if we know what's causing it," Gabrielsen said.

Jason and Tricia Nelson of Orem are the parents of a 15-year-old autistic teenager, Riley. He is unable to talk or communicate very well. His parents said Riley has become more aggressive as he's gotten older.

"He'll bang his head, he's broken mirrors in our house, he's put dents in our walls with his head," Tricia Nelson said. "It's hard for our family to know that we can't do things that other families do because we're afraid of some of the behaviors that he might have."

Their life revolves around taking care of Riley 24 hours a day, with no days off.

"There's worries all the time," his mother said, "through the night, through the day, while he's at school."

The Nelsons are intrigued by the new BYU study. They know it doesn't answer everything about autistic children, but they said just knowing people are trying to figure it out is comforting.

"It does give us that hope that we can have a better future," Tricia Nelson said.

The study was published in Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders.

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