News / Science & Technology

Hormone May Improve Behavior in Autistic Children

FILE - A father reads a book with his autistic daughter.FILE - A father reads a book with his autistic daughter.
x
FILE - A father reads a book with his autistic daughter.
FILE - A father reads a book with his autistic daughter.
Jessica Berman
Scientists say a hormone called oxytocin appears to improve brain functioning in children with autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder that can be marked by limited social interaction, repetitive behaviors and, occasionally, violent outbursts.  

The study investigating the effect of oxytocin in autistic children stemmed from observations of the tiny prairie vole, a mouse-sized rodent that lives in the grasslands of the United States and Canada.  Oxytocin promotes bonding between mothers and their offspring, experts say. Higher levels of the hormone were found in voles that lived in pairs, while solitary voles had lower levels.

Researchers at Yale University in Connecticut wondered about the role of oxytocin in autistic children, who are often solitary and have trouble bonding with others. In the first study looking at the impact of the hormone on brain function, researchers studied 17 medium- to high-functioning autistic youngsters between the ages of eight and 16 and a half.  

The scientists administered a single dose of oxytocin via nasal spray to half of the children. The other half were given a placebo. Investigators then did computerized imaging of their brains. In the treated children, areas of the brain that had previously been silent in association with reward and emotion lit up. In other words, they responded to social stimuli, such as another person's face.

Kevin Pelphrey, head of the Center for Translational Developmental Neuroscience at Yale, led the study.  He hopes longer treatment with oxytocin leads to changes in behavior.

“We would expect the kids to be more socially engaged, make more eye contact, understand sort of subtle social advances more clearly and be more interested in interacting with other people," said Pelphrey.

But practical use of these results may be some time away.  Gina Ballone is with the organization Achieve Beyond, which offers clinical services and interpersonal therapies to autistic children and their parents.

“And I think that, not to blame the parents, the parents want a quick fix.  And unfortunately there’s no quick fix with autism," said Ballone.
 
Pelphrey and his colleagues are planning larger studies to learn whether oxytocin given for a longer time helps autistic children.  

An article on the potential benefits of the hormone oxytocin in autistic children is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  

You May Like

Scotland Vote Raises Questions of International Law

Experts say self-determination, as defined and protected by international law, confined narrowly to independence movements in process of de-colonization More

Whaling Summit Votes to Uphold Ban on Japan Whale Hunt

Conservationists hail ruling as a victory, but Tokyo says it will submit revised plans for a whale hunt in 2015 More

Annual Military Exercise Takes on New Meaning for Ukraine Troops

Troops from 15 nations participating in annual event, 'Rapid Trident' in western Ukraine More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctionsi
X
September 18, 2014 2:28 AM
A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Russian Economy Reeling After New Western Sanctions

A new wave of Western sanctions is hitting Russia’s economy hard. State-owned energy firms continue to bleed profits and Russia’s national currency plunged to a new low this week after the U.S. and the European Union announced new sanctions to punish Russia's aggressive stance in eastern Ukraine. But as Mil Arcega reports, the sanctions could also prove costly for European and American companies.
Video

Video Belgian Researchers Discover Way to Block Cancer Metastasis

Cancer remains one of the deadliest diseases, despite many new methods to combat it. Modern medicine has treatments to prevent the growth of primary tumor cells. But most cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, the stage when primary tumor cells change and move to other parts of the body. A team of Belgian scientists says it has found a way to prevent that process. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Mogadishu's Flood of Foreign Workers Leaves Somalis Out of Work

Unemployment and conflict has forced many young Somalians out of the country in search of a better life. But a newfound stability in the once-lawless nation has created hope — and jobs — which, some say, are too often being filled by foreigners. Abdulaziz Billow reports from Mogadishu.
Video

Video A Dinosaur Fit for Land and Water

Residents and tourists in Washington D.C. can now examine a life-size replica of an unusual dinosaur that lived almost a hundred million years ago in northern Africa. Scientists say studying the behemoth named Spinosaurus helps them better understand how some prehistoric animals adapted to life on land and in water. The Spinosaurus replica is on display at the National Geographic museum. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Iraqi Kurdistan Church Helps Christian Children Cope find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil

In the past six weeks, tens of thousands of Iraqi Christians have been forced to flee their homes by Islamic State militants and find shelter in churches in the Kurdish capital, Irbil. Despite U.S. airstrikes in the region, the prospect of people returning home is still very low and concerns are starting to grow over the impact this is having on the displaced youth. Sebastian Meyer reports from Irbil on how one church is coping.
Video

Video NASA Picks Boeing, SpaceX to Carry Astronauts Into Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, has chosen Boeing and SpaceX companies to build the next generation of spacecraft that will carry U.S. astronauts to the International Space Station by the year 2017. The deal with private industry enables NASA to end its dependence on Russia to send space crews into low Earth orbit and back. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Future of Ukrainian Former President's Estate Uncertain

More than six months after Ukraine's former President Viktor Yanukovych fled revolution to Russia, authorities have yet to gain control of his palatial estate. Protesters occupy the grounds and opened it to tourists but they are also refusing to turn it over to the state. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Mezhigirya, just north of Kyiv.
Video

Video China Muslims Work to Change Perceptions After Knife Attacks

China says its has sentenced three men to death and one woman to life in prison for a deadly knife attack in March that left more than 30 dead and 140 injured. Beijing says Muslim militants from China's restive western region of Xinjiang carried out the attacks. Now, more than six months after the incident, residents in the city are still coping with the aftermath. VOA's Bill Ide has more from Kunming.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid