To determine its suitability as a general treatment Professor Dadds’ team conducted a randomised controlled clinical trial of 38 boys aged between seven and 16 years of age with autism. Half were given a nasal spray of oxytocin on four consecutive days.
The study has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders.
“We found that, compared to a placebo, oxytocin did not significantly improve emotion recognition, social interaction skills, repetitive behaviours, or general behavioural adjustment,” says Professor Dadds.
“This is in contrast to a handful of previous smaller studies which have shown some positive effects on repetitive behaviours, social memory and emotion processing.
“These studies, however, were limited by having small numbers of participants and/or by looking at the effects of single doses of oxytocin on specific behaviours or cognitive effects while the participants had the oxytocin in their system.
“The results of our much larger study suggest caution should be exercised in recommending nasal oxytocin as a general treatment for young people with autism.”
The boys in the new study were assessed twice before treatment, three times during the treatment week, immediately afterwards and three months later, with a parent present. Factors such as eye contact with the parent, responsiveness, warmth, speech, positive body language, repetitive behaviours, and recognition of facial emotions were observed.