Research: Autism, Teens and Behavior

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By News Team on April 11, 2022

Key points: 

  • Moodiness and defiance are common among all teenagers, especially those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • Reducing the gastrointestinal inflammation common among those with ASD may also reduce behavioral issues
  • Local teens with ASD may be able to participate in a clinical trial at Carilion aiming to confirm the gut-brain connection and lead to better treatment


When kids become teenagers, their behavior can change from sweet to salty for a variety of reasons that may include: 

  • Changing hormones
  • Social stresses at school and online
  • Family disruption or other challenges at home
  • Mental illnesses
  • Simply wanting to establish their own identity

Some moody, anxious and defiant behaviors are to be expected during the teenage years, and they can even be seen as a healthy part of the life-changing transition from childhood to adulthood.
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For neurodivergent adolescents, however, that transition has added stressors that can amplify challenging behaviors.
Teens with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may: 

  • Have trouble deviating from routines and rituals
  • Have trouble managing transitions
  • Experience sensory overload or sensitivities
  • Be frustrated by expectations they see as unrealistic
  • Be ill or feel discomfort or pain
  • Simply be tired

These can lead them to be defiant, behave in socially inappropriate ways, or even hurt themselves or others.

Clinical Trial for Teens With ASD

Carilion Clinic is conducting a new clinical trial to determine whether a teen’s gut microbiome may contribute to their struggles with irritability related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD)—including aggression, self-injury and severe tantrums.
“Many children with ASD experience more gastrointestinal inflammation than neurotypical kids do,” said Anita Kablinger, M.D., Carilion’s clinical trials research director and principal investigator for the study.
“This study builds on research on the gut-brain connection,’ she said, “using a medication that interacts with certain bacteria in the gut in ways that reduce their ability to enter the bloodstream, thereby reducing their contributions to irritability.”
The study may lead to better treatment for irritability associated with ASD in teenagers.
Patients may be eligible to participate in this exciting research if they:

  • Are 13 to 17 years old
  • Have a documented diagnosis of ASD
  • Have GI symptoms such as constipation or diarrhea

Find out more at and talk to your child’s pediatrician if you would like your child to participate.

Help for Kids and Families

In addition to conducting groundbreaking research, Carilion Children’s Pediatric Child Development team works every day with kids and teens who have ASD and other developmental and behavioral conditions. Pediatric child development specialist Michole Pineda, M.D., shared some of the education and interventions our team uses to help kids with ASD and their families. They include:

  • Diagnostic evaluations for autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Psychological evaluations
  • Speech therapy evaluations and care plans
  • Physical therapy evaluation and care plans
  • Medication management
  • Child psychiatry for established patients of the clinic
  • Clinical social work to access area resources
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy for anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders
  • Hospital consultation by psychologists

What You Can Do

If you think your child may have ASD, talk with their pediatrician to see if an evaluation is in order.

And if you know your teen has ASD, consider enrolling them in Carilion’s clinical trial.

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