A world-first study has found a hormone commonly used to induce labour in pregnant women, oxytocin, has significant benefits for some children with autism.
Autism Spectrum disorder affects one in sixty-eight Australian children, impacting their communication skills and social interactions. These children are often very intelligent however they are unable to convey this intelligence due to these communication difficulties. They are often unable to detect important cues, which we use to guide our everyday social behaviour. Research conducted at the University’s Brain and Mind Institute looked at 31 children aged three to eight over a fifteen week period, five of which they were given an oxytocins nasal spray.
Sydney mother Christine Blue said the impact on her son Hayden was dramatic. “By week three and four my husband and I were saying yes this is the active ingredient and we are noticing a difference. By week five we were just really, really pleased with the results. He was more willing to be in a group. He was more willing to be involved in a conversation … He was just a happier child. His eye contact was better. It was not perfect but it was better. And he was just talking a whole lot more.” Ms Blue said the oxytocin spray seemed to unlock her child’s personality, and allow him to reap the rewards from years of therapy. Now the vibrant seven-year-old is happy to discuss his love for dinosaurs, monster movies and his sister, Lauren.
As for the other participants, two thirds of the participants involved have shown significant improvements and this is the first time any medication has been found to show improvements in social interaction skills. These results seem to be promising according to Associate Professor Guastella. He has warned however that Oxytocin is not a miracle cure, it seems to show some improvements for a portion of people to reduce symptoms however it does not get rid of the disorder and is likely that no single treatment will. Although there were no side effects for the Blues family, other participants have reported issues with thirst, urination and constipation. Further research and testing is still required before definitive conclusions about the drug can be made.
Oxytocin nasal spray is available. Drug companies need to see more evidence and more research to be able to justify their distribution of it across Australia. “Associate Professor Adam Guastella said researchers at the Brain and Mind Institute and the Telethon Kids Institute in Perth were recruiting 120 children with autism aged under 12 for a larger study.”
The big question really is how does oxytocin affect the brain to influence social behaviour.