Oxytocin Found to Stimulate Social Brain Regions in Children With Autism

The New York Times:

The hormone oxytocin has been generating excitement — and caution — among people who care about autism.

Scientists have been eager to see if oxytocin, which plays a role in emotional bonding, trust and many biological processes, can improve social behavior in people with autism. Some parents of children with autism have asked doctors to prescribe it, although it is not an approved treatment for autism, or have purchased lower-dose versions of the drug over the counter.

Scientifically, the jury is out, and experts say parents should wait until more is known. Some studies suggest that oxytocin, sometimes called the “love hormone,” improves the ability to empathize and connect socially, and may decrease repetitive behaviors. Others find little or no impact, and some research suggests that it can promote clannish and competitive feelings, or exacerbate symptoms in people already oversensitive to social cues. Importantly, nobody knows if oxytocin is safe or desirable to use regularly or long term.

“Most people believe that these drugs will not immediately improve social behavior or improve some of the more negative symptoms,” said Geraldine Dawson, director of the Center for Autism Diagnosis and Treatment at Duke University. Instead, “Think of this as possibly priming the brain to make it more receptive to social information,” she said. “This may help to enhance that child’s response to behavioral therapy and early intervention, and may not have to be used long term.”

Read the whole story: The New York Times

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