Can a composite heart rate variability biomarker shed new insights about autism spectrum disorder in school-aged children?

High-frequency heart rate variability (HRV) has identified parasympathetic nervous system alterations in autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In a cohort of school-aged children with and without ASD, we test a set of alternative linear and nonlinear HRV measures, including phase rectified signal averaging, applied to a segment of resting ECG, for associations with ASD vs. other psychiatric conditions. Using machine learning, we identify HRV measures derived from time, frequency, and geometric signal-analytical domains that (1) identify children with ASD relative to peers with receiver operating curve area of .89, and (2) differentiate such children from those with conduct problems or depression. Despite the small cohort and lack of prospective external validation, these preliminary results warrant larger prospective validation studies.

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