Intranasal Oxytocin Improved Social Interactions in Children with Autism

June 06, 2022

After 6-Week Treatment, Children Exhibited More Behavioral Adaptability and Less Repetitive Behaviors

Previous research has shown that children with autism have lower blood levels of oxytocin than their neurotypical peers. Sometimes referred to as the “social hormone,” oxytocin serves several functions: promoting trust between people, moderating response to threats, and mother-child bonding. Children on the spectrum who exhibit these lower blood levels of oxytocin have demonstrated inferior social skills to those with higher levels. Due to this fact, oxytocin supplementation has become an exciting area of autism research. The hormone must be administered by nasal spray since oxytocin cannot enter the brain via the bloodstream. Interestingly, earlier intranasal oxytocin research has shown mixed results. A small 2010 study showed a positive outcome and found that people with autism who received intranasal oxytocin paid more attention to others’ faces. However, a recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine did not find any improvements in social or cognitive functioning for children and adolescents with autism after a 24-week clinical trial of the hormone. Yet, the current analysis has found that intranasal oxytocin provided social improvement for children with autism. This pilot double-blind, randomized, crossover trial included 41 children with autism aged 3 – 8 years. All participants received an intranasal placebo over two weeks. Afterward, the children were randomly assigned in a 1:1 ratio to receive a 6-week treatment of either intranasal oxytocin or intranasal placebo every other morning, followed by a 30-minute positive social interaction session. At the end of the trial, primary outcomes were measured by the ADOS-2 score and the Social Responsiveness Scale, Second Edition (SRS-2). Secondary measures assessed adaptive behavior, social communication, and repetitive behaviors. Caregivers also completed questionnaire-based measures at a 6-month follow-up to evaluate the long-term impact of the treatment. Results showed that the intranasal oxytocin group made notable improvements in the primary outcome measures as well as behavioral adaptability and repetitive behaviors secondary measures compared to the placebo group. Additionally, the treatment group exhibited increased time spent viewing dynamic social stimuli. The treatment group’s improvements persisted throughout the 6-month follow-up questionnaire, and no adverse effects were observed during the trial. Due to the varying results of this analysis and previous work, more studies are needed to determine the effectiveness of intranasal oxytocin on social interactions for children with autism. 

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