Giving 'cuddle hormones' to children with autism can improve social skills, scientists say

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Giving children with autism doses of “cuddle hormone” can improve their social skills, research has suggested.

Scientists conducted an experiment where they gave some children doses of oxytocin twice a day for a month.

And they discovered that it could make it easier for some engage socially with other children than they did before the treatment. 

But oxytocin did not reduce repetitive behaviour, another autistic trait, or anxiety.

The study administered the hormone or an inactive “dummy” placebo to 32 autistic children over a month-long period.

Children who had the lowest natural levels of oxytocin responded most to the hormone and showed the greatest improvements in social behaviour.

Lead researcher Dr Karen Parker, from Stanford University in the US, said: “Our results suggest that some children with autism will benefit from oxytocin treatment more than others, and that blood oxytocin levels might be a biological sign that will allow us to predict if a child will respond maximally or not.”

Oxytocin is known to promote social bonding and has been nicknamed the “love” or “cuddle” hormone.

Levels of the hormone are raised during pregnancy and when a mother has contact with her baby. 

High levels of the “love hormone” are also seen in couples in the first six months of a romantic relationship.

Study co-author Professor Antonio Hardan, also from Stanford University, said: “Hopefully, this is a first step to identifying the characteristics of people with autism who respond to specific treatments.

“Because of the heterogeneity (wide ranging nature) of the disorder, we need to start doing clinical trials not to see if there will be a response, but more to see who will respond to possible treatments.”

The findings are reported in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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