February 17, 2010
Oxytocin Improves Social Skills Of Autistics

Social skills come in a nasal spray.

Autism is a disease characterized by difficulties in communicating effectively with other people and developing social relationships. The team led by Angela Sirigu at the Centre de Neuroscience Cognitive (CNRS) has shown that the inhalation of oxytocin, a hormone known to promote mother-infant bonds and social relationships, significantly improved the abilities of autistic patients to interact with other individuals. To achieve this, the researchers administered oxytocin to 13 autistic patients and then observed their social behavior during ball games and during visual tests designed to identify ability to recognize faces expressing different feelings. Their findings, published in PNAS on 15 February 2010, thus reveal the therapeutic potential of oxytocin to treat the social disorders from which autistic patients suffer.

Blood tests for oxytocin levels might indicate who could benefit from extra oxytocin.

Because previous research has indicated that some people with autism might have abnormally low levels of oxytocin, conducting tests to identify those people and administering them the hormone might help as well, said Karen Parker, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2010 February 17 10:48 PM  Brain Altruism

kurt9 said at February 17, 2010 11:07 PM:

Chelation with ALA (alpha lipoic acid) over a period of years also works.

Halvorson said at February 18, 2010 12:17 AM:

"Chelation with ALA (alpha lipoic acid) over a period of years also works."

Citations are helpful buddy.

From "Complementary and Alternative Medical Therapies for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Autism"

"In summary, although it is clear that mercury is a potent neurotoxin, especially in the developing brain, the idea that mercury exposure is a significant cause of autism is at this point largely is unproved. There is a need for a prospective study comparing postchelation urinary heavy metal levels in autistic children compared with controls. In addition, chelation therapy is recommended widely by biomedical practitioners for children who have autism, based on the assumption that removing these metals will result in improvement in autistic symptoms. There is no scientific support for this contention at this time."

From “Complementary and Alternative Medicine Treatments for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders”

"There are no controlled studies that examine the safety or efficacy of prescription or nonprescription chelation regimens for children with autism. More importantly, there have been deaths reported from inappropriate use of a chelator, EDTA, from hypocalcemia 10"

One thing chelation can do:

Bob Badour said at February 18, 2010 6:39 AM:


You usually do so much better than this.

As Halvorson points out above, chelation is dangerous. Not only is it dangerous, it is based on bad science, which is worse than no science. Heavy metal toxicity including mercury toxicity has symptoms not seen in autism. Autism has symptoms not seen in heavy metal poisoning.

The whole mercury hypothesis is ultimately rooted in Wakefield's study, which was also bad science. Most of his co-authors withdrew their names from the study years ago having concluded the ethics and procedural problems rendered it invalid. The Lancet recently retracted Wakefield's study(PDF) as dangerously bad science too.

Or do you get your science from a stripper and a clown?

As for ALA, I took it daily for several years, and it did not make me one bit less autistic.

Kralizec said at February 18, 2010 10:50 AM:

Meanwhile, the vitamin-D3 deficiency theory of the cause of autism seems to be gaining ground. There seem to be many reasons it is good for any human being, not excepting pregnant and nursing women and their children, to be vitamin-D3 sufficient. That is, even if there were no evidence at all of a relation to autism, it seems one could recommend that pregnant and nursing women and their children be vitamin-D3 replete. But in addition to those other reasons, there is also circumstantial and anecdotal evidence that autism can be avoided by maintaining vitamin-D3 sufficiency in a woman throughout her pregnancy and nursing and maintaining vitamin-D3 sufficiency in a child in the first few years of life. See the website of the Vitamin D Council for details.


Bob Badour said at February 18, 2010 11:07 AM:


One of the problems is autism is a social construct not a biological construct. Physically, autism has many causes. At least 17 different genetic loci have been implicated. Sometimes conditions that don't really resemble autism neurologically get diagnosed or misdiagnosed as autism. Seizure disorders for example can make a child unresponsive. Among the very young, the unresponsiveness often gets linked to autism.

One could argue diagnosing seizure disorders as autism is a correct diagnosis because autism is diagnosed behaviourally. If the behaviour fits, then so does the diagnosis. And when it comes right down to it, autistics are a very diverse group. However, when one gets to know more than a few autistic adults, one realizes certain things appear over and over again. For example, sensory issues are ubiquitous as near as I can tell; however, those sensory issues manifest in a huge variety of ways.

I liken autistic behaviour to the "flu-like symptoms of neurological difference". A lot of different neurological differences result in those behaviours just like a lot of different viral infections result in flu-like symptoms.

Might vitamin-D3 make a difference for some autistics? Maybe, I don't know. Will vitamin-D3 prevent autism? Very unlikely.

Tom Billings said at February 18, 2010 1:04 PM:

Bob, you are certainly correct that a lot of what autism is, is a social construct, ...indeed, IMHO, a large part of the symptomology is due to the negative interactions between autists and neurotypicals. That does not, however, indicate the oxytocin is not useful. Talk of a cure at this stage is totally premature, for *any* available therapy. But amelioration of autism's neurological effects on behavior *may* make a lot of that social interaction better, obviating the multiplier factor of an autist learning behaviors that temporarily make things better, and long-term make them worse. I started personal research on the subject in 1961, whenever I could get to the library without family along. Even in the early 1960s, one could see that, given oxytocin's effects, it might be helpful, if someone in the professional community were only listening to *any* suggestion for physical treatments. They were not.

In 1965, when I was speaking to the first counselor I had in JHS, for the depression that was already a complication of my Asperger Syndrome, I asked if oxytocin might be used, and even after I explained my symptoms, and the known effects of oxytocin, he was incredulous, refusing to even mention it to a professional(in those days JHS counselors were simply teachers assigned by the principal). I tried again in HS, when the sports coaches were the accepted "guidance counselors", and got even greater hostility for the idea. Even when I got assigned as the first client of the first professional School Pyschologist in the Vancouver School District, I was assigned by her to a Psychiatrist, who would prescribe Valium, but would not even listen to a suggestion of oxytocin. Of course, at the time, Asperger Syndrome was recognized only in Germany and Austria, IIRC. I had heard of it through a German language instructor in 1966, but could get no further information.

It's nice to feel some vindication after many years, though I'd 'druther have skipped that, in favor of treatment that was effective in *some* degree when I was young.


Tom Billings

John Anon said at February 19, 2010 11:02 AM:

RP or anyone else: Is there any way to get your hands on some oxytocin? I found a couple sites selling it, but they're probably phony.

Faruq said at February 19, 2010 11:46 AM:

I second that, does anyone know of a way of getting oxycotin. I can see that autistic spectrum behaviour might have some advantages,but overall I'm sick of it.

Joan H. said at February 19, 2010 3:28 PM:

Interesting research. My son has a mild form of Asperger's Syndrome, and on the recommendation of his neurologist, we started him on a regimen of Co-enzyme Q10. He started it when he was 11, and he's 13 now. I don't know how much of the improvement we've seen (mostly in reduced limb-girdle weakness, and improved socialization) is just him growing out of it, or the effects of the CoQ10.

There is some evidence (sorry no sites, this is from conversations with the doctor) that autism spectrum disorders are linked to neurotransmitter deficiencies -- the idea behind the CoQ10 was that it was supposed to improve the efficacy of serotonin or boost its production, I'm not sure which. A hormonal deficiency is just as plausible IMO.

(One unexpected benefit of the CoQ10 -- my son's acne is minimal when he remembers to take it.)

Wacky Hermit said at February 19, 2010 3:50 PM:

Where to get oxytocin: breastfeed a child. That's the only natural source of it I know of. If you are ready to give birth to a child, it can be administered at a hospital to induce labor (trade name is Pitocin). Sorry men, I guess you're out of luck. ;)

Bob Badour: I second the "autism as social construct" thing. To be sure, there's been a rise in full-on autism diagnoses as well as in diagnoses of more recently identified alternative forms of autism like Asperger's Syndrome. But 30 years ago, a kid with AS would have just been "weird," not "ill." My dad recently got his AS diagnosis, and his dad passed away before he could go in for testing, and my brother and my husband won't go in for testing, but all of them are productive citizens (albeit ones whose relationships and social lives leave a lot to be desired). They're the same people they were when they were born and raised; only the societal narrative has changed. They're no longer people with eccentricities or unique skill sets, they're people who are ill and need to be fixed.

Speaking from my own experience with my two AS sons, I know we pursued their diagnoses for two reasons. One, these kids are really hard to handle without a lot of very consistent help. Two, the schools won't lift a finger to help your child unless they have a diagnosis to pity, at which point they are legally obliged to do what it takes to actually educate your child. As people's local support systems dwindle and are replaced by virtual connections, and school systems continually narrow the definition of "normal," we start to see a feedback loop between these two factors and the number of AS diagnoses in what would otherwise just have been strange children who visit their grandmas to give their mom a break.

kyle r. said at February 19, 2010 3:52 PM:

So how do you keep the mother / child bond from being broken or not forming in the first place? After 33 years i finally worked through my AS tendencies. Break on through to the other side. Didn't even know i was pathologic until the mid 20s. Bottle feeding and an emotionally distant (but intellectually close) mother were involved. Better living through science, they say. Just based on my peers' children, it seems to coincidentally be related to the mom going back to work as soon as the FMLA vacation runs out. Then again, i'm familiar with the vocabulary and reading tics and faces through much practice and dedicated study, so the kids seem normal and communicative to me. The parents on the other hand.... Wouldn't change a thing for the world. Thing is, the world needs a change. Burn your breast pumps. Suck on that, science!

mark said at February 19, 2010 4:01 PM:

get ready for dx of the autism spectrum to explode.

Bob Badour said at February 19, 2010 4:04 PM:

Michelle Dawson offers a different viewpoint on the meaning of the oxytocin results.

I have a great deal of respect for Michelle's analyses of scientific papers. She is far better read on the topic than I am and has a pronounced ability to see past the distractions to the core issues. Some of the readers here might be as intrigued as I am by her reference to Tyler Cowen.

Lockestep said at February 19, 2010 4:05 PM:

All you need to see is the word 'chelation' and you know that everything in a post is false, ignorant, and/or totally without merit. Pretty handy device.

MrJimm said at February 19, 2010 5:21 PM:

Speaking as a 57-year-old Aspie, um, life isn't so bad. Yes, I lack many social skills. I'll never be a successful manager. Office politics completely baffle me. So what? I'm a very successful hospital-computer consultant, and I use my awesome powers of focus (and a pretty sharp brain, too; my GMAT score was literally off the charts (and I DO know what 'literally' means)) to tackle tasks that would confound most others in my field. I've been married for almost 29 years (to a very understanding wife). And, by training my powers of focus on investing, I do rather well in that area too.

That being said, I just might look into oxycontin. (IIRC, oxycontin is NOT the same as Oxycodone, the often-abused painkiller.)

markwark said at February 19, 2010 6:21 PM:

MrJimm, oxycontin is also a very powerful and often abused pain killer. Fortunately, the study here evaluated oxytocin. Similar spelling, much different substance.

tss said at February 20, 2010 8:06 AM:

focus, focus

MrJimm said at February 20, 2010 9:07 AM:

Well, I did say IIRC (If I Recall Correctly). Guess I didn't. Thanks for setting me straight!

John Ashton said at February 24, 2010 10:51 PM:

If you want to learn how autistics can learn social skills I have a few article on my website about it.

Bob Badour said at February 25, 2010 7:30 AM:

John Ashton,

I looked at your site. It lists autism and aspergers almost as an after-thought on the main page. I examined some of the articles on the site, and frankly, they don't suggest you have the first clue about autistic social challenges.

In fact, some of the "advice" is as useful to an autistic person as telling a deaf person to listen or a blind person to watch.

jenny said at April 8, 2012 3:39 PM:

I have had Aspergers all of my life. I am now 55 years old. My family new something was wrong with me but just treated me as if I was retarded. I can say that I have taken low doses of oxycontin and yes it does help. I don't agree that it should be given to children but should be offered to adults. There seems to be little help for people my age. I would volunteer for clinical tests to help find a way to help others like me. But don't expect me to smile or talk much. I may feel bad for you but I won't show it.

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