Autism is a group of complex brain developmental disorders characterized by impairments in social interaction, communication, and stereotypical and repetitive behaviors. The diagnosed incidence is estimated to be one in 68 children and effective interventions remain limited.

Behavioral therapies can improve social, emotional and behavioral impairments but these are typically time consuming (40 hours per week), remain costly and show mixed outcomes. There is currently no medical treatment for these problems.

A five week treatment with the synthetic hormone oxytocin significantly improved social, emotional and behavioral issues among young children with autism, according to a recent study. 

The authors claim this is the first evidence of a medical treatment for social impairments in children with autism. It is also the first clinical trial investigating the efficacy, tolerability and safety of intranasal-administered oxytocin in young children with autism. In the study, 31 children aged three to eight years of age received a twice daily course of oxytocin in the form of a nasal spray. 

Overall, the nasal spray was well tolerated and the most common adverse events were thirst, urination and constipation. The next step in the research is to understand exactly how oxytocin changes brain circuitry to improve social behavior, and to document how related treatments might be used to boost established social learning interventions.  

Published in Molecular Psychiatry.
Source: University of Sydney