Can the “Social Interaction Hormone” Help Cure Autism?
By Shlomo Maital
Writing in the Scientific American blog “LiveScience”, Dec. 2, 2013, Bahar Gholipour shares an interesting new development in the treatment of autism.
[ Autism (properly known as autism spectrum disorder, ASD) is almost 5 times more common among boys (1 in 54) than among girls (1 in 252). Autism overall afflicts one child in about 150. But a study in South Korea revealed a higher incidence, 2.6 percent; and autism does seem to be on the rise. No one knows what causes it, nor why it is increasing. ]
Apparently, there is a hormone secreted by the body that controls social interaction, known as oxytocin.
According to Gohlipour, “although the hormone didn’t change children’s social skills in the study, its boosting effect on the brain’s social areas suggests that using oxytocin nasal sprays immediately before behavioral therapies could boost the effects of those treatments …. Oxytocin temporarily normalized brain regions responsible for the social deficits seen in children with autism, said study researcher Ilanit Gordon, a neuroscientist at Yale University in New Haven, Conn.
But when children received oxytocin they showed greater activity in the “social brain,” which includes regions that process social information and are linked to reward, social perception and emotional awareness.”
How exactly does oxytocin work? “It remains unclear how the hormone affects the brain and leads to better social processing. One possibility is that oxytocin makes social stimuli more rewarding to children with autism, the researchers said. It is also possible that the hormone makes the information pertaining to humans stand out from the background information consisting of objects and, in turn, helps social information to become salient to people with autism, the researchers said.”