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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

'Love Hormone' Oxytocin May Help Some With Autism

Study found it boosted ability of certain patients to read facial expressions, nonverbal cues
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In turn, treated patients were then presented with a psychological task in which they were instructed to determine whether or not a character in a movie they were shown was a friend or foe. They were asked to make their decision after absorbing a mix of both verbal and nonverbal cues.

The result: the dose of oxytocin did, in fact, translate into an improved ability to interpret such cues accurately.

Yamasue noted that although the impact of oxytocin treatment on brain activity can be seen relatively quickly (within 15 to 120 minutes), "researchers generally believe that effect of single-dose oxytocin is short-term."

Dr. Andrew Adesman, chief of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at the Cohen Children's Medical Center of New York in New Hyde Park, cautioned that "it will likely be several years before we have a clearer understanding of whether oxytocin is a safe and effective treatment."

Adesman said, "Recent studies have suggested that oxytocin can have a favorable effect on the social behaviors of individuals with autism spectrum disorder. [And] this new study suggests that the effects of oxytocin, from an experimental standpoint, may not be as narrow as previously believed," he acknowledged.

Andrea Roberts, a research associate in the department of social and behavioral sciences at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, pointed out that the research on this topic has produced mixed results.

"I think the prior studies show that there is potential for oxytocin to be slightly beneficial to people with [autism spectrum disorder]," she said, "but the evidence for long-term, meaningful levels of effectiveness is unfortunately not yet there."

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