Researchers at the Institute for Autism Research at Canisius College have found that functional level appears to play a critical role in the stress levels of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Specifically, lower-functioning children with ASD (LFASD) exhibited significantly higher levels of cortisol, the primary stress hormone in humans, than both high-functioning children with ASD (HFASD) and typical children.

Prior research has suggested that individuals with ASD experience elevated stress and related problems such as anxiety, however, many of the studies relied on informant rating scales and behavioral observations which have significant limitations for children with ASD. Attempts to more directly measure stress in this population using physiological measures such as cortisol have yielded mixed results. 

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