The Promising Future Of Using Oxytocin To Help People With Autism
While the "love hormone" oxytocin triggers positive effects in nearly everyone, it can be especially beneficial for people who struggle with communication and behavior, including adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The hormone's effects have been tested on people with ASD for a decade, but until now, researchers have been unable to determine its long-term effects.
A study published this week in Molecular Autism found administering oxytocin through a nasal spray for four weeks can decrease repetitive behavior in men with autism for up to one year.
The positive results were compared to the control group, who took placebo-nasal spray in place of oxytocin. All 40 participants were high-functioning adult men with ASD who filled out four questionnaires over the course of one year.
Though some known benefits of oxytocin include improved facial recognition and increased trust and social bonds, the placebo group and the oxytocin group did not show any differences in their social interactions. What oxytocin did improve, though, was the need for routine and repetitive behavior.
"The people in the experimental group reported far less repetitive behavior and also reported fewer problems with forming close relationships," said author of the study Sylvie Bernaerts, Ph.D.
These findings suggest certain symptoms, including attachment difficulties and habitual behavior, will be better treated with pharmaceutical oxytocin than overall ASD characteristics, like social responsiveness.
Katt Alaerts, Ph.D., and professor in charge of the study, said further research needs to be done before oxytocin is widely administered as a treatment for people with autism, but the results are still promising. As for testing the outcomes on women with autism? That process will be more delicate since women generally have higher levels of oxytocin than men, and hormonal cycles might alter the test results.
While this study was conducted on adults, there are treatment plans for improving social and cognitive behaviors in children with autism that don't require medication.
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