First study to use intranasal oxytocin with autistic children was largely successful in improving emotional responses, as well as social responses and behavior.
In a groundbreaking study, Australian researchers with the University of Sydney Brain and Mind Institute found that the synthetic hormone oxytocin was beneficial for over a third of the autistic children recruited for the research.
Autism spectrum disorder represents a large group of developmental disorders in the brain, pinpointed by impaired communication, social interaction, or stereotypical behavior. To date, there are no treatments for the large spectrum. Therapy is among the recommended courses of action. With expensive session, long-lasting and tiring and with mixed results, it remains among the only options. Autism is diagnosed in every one out of 69 children. Effective interventions have so far remained elusive.
However, with this first study to use intranasal oxytocin with autistic children, chances are it might develop into a treatment. Not a cure, but an efficient management tool for autism.
Adam Guastella with the University of Sydney stated:
“The potential to use such simple treatment to enhance the long-term benefits of other behavioral, educational and technology-based therapies is very exciting”.
The research was conducted with the aid of 31 autistic children between the ages of five and eight. The children were applied either oxytocin nasal spray or a placebo spray two times per day for a period of five weeks.
The response was fantastic. During the monitoring phase spanning 15 weeks, more parents reported that they could see clear improvements with the child’s behavior. The children who received the oxytocin nasal spray were more socially responsive. At the same time, they expressed feelings more easily, their likes and dislikes. Moreover, they enjoyed others’ company more.
In the follow-up, the children were submitted to the most common assessments targeting autistic children’s social response. Over one third fared well above the children who received the placebo.
And while these are exciting news, the researchers draw attention over the fact that the oxytocin nasal spray is not a silver bullet for autism. And certainly it will not be widely released too soon.
First, the University of Sydney Brain and Mind Institute in collaboration with the Telethon Kids Institute, Perth have a new, larger study planned. 120 children with autism will participate in the new study. Secondly, the effects of the oxytocin synthetic hormone on the brain circuitry needs to be studied more in-depth.
The results of the study are published in the Molecular Psychiatry journal.
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