What is oxytocin?
Oxytocin is a hormone most commonly known for helping with labour, birth and breastfeeding. It might also help mothers bond with their newborn babies. And it might help babies develop trust, love and social skills, like the ability to recognise emotions and empathise.
Who is oxytocin therapy for?
Oxytocin has been trialled with autistic people who have anxiety, repetitive behaviour or social challenges.
What is oxytocin therapy used for?
Oxytocin has been trialled as a way of improving autistic people’s anxiety symptoms and social skills, including their ability to make eye contact and recognise emotions. It might also help to reduce repetitive behaviour and relieve gastrointestinal discomfort.
Where does oxytocin therapy come from?
Professor Eric Hollander and colleagues introduced oxytocin infusion as a therapy for autistic people in 1983. These researchers drew on findings from animal studies that showed that oxytocin is linked to animals grooming themselves too much, as well as to repetitive animal behaviour.
What is the idea behind oxytocin therapy for autistic people?
Oxytocin helps babies and children develop social skills. It also reduces repetitive behaviour.
Research has shown that some autistic people have low levels of oxytocin and that their brains deal with oxytocin differently from other people’s brains.
Supporters of this therapy believe oxytocin plays a role in the development of autism. They also think that that it could improve social skills and reduce repetitive behaviour. But researchers don’t yet fully understand how oxytocin works in the body and how it affects behaviour.
What does oxytocin therapy involve?
People can take oxytocin by injection or nasal spray or in a lozenge under the tongue. Most studies have used a nasal spray. It doesn’t take long to take a dose of oxytocin, but the treatment might go on for some time.
Does oxytocin therapy help autistic children?
Research shows mixed results. Some research has shown that this therapy has positive effects on social behaviour and physiology, but negative effects have also been reported. Also, some studies have shown no difference between oxytocin and a placebo.
Oxytocin is generally considered safe, but some serious side effects have been reported.
More high-quality studies are needed to weigh up any positive effects against negative effects, side effects and long-term risks.
Also, most studies to date have looked at short-term use and use for autistic adults. Studies are looking at the use of oxytocin for autistic children and using it in combination with other therapies.
Who practises oxytocin therapy?
These health professionals can also give you information about oxytocin and possible side effects. If your child is prescribed oxytocin, your health professional will monitor your child at regular appointments.
Where can you find a practitioner?
A GP, psychiatrist or paediatrician can prescribe oxytocin.
You can find psychiatrists at Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists – Find a psychiatrist.
Parent education, training, support and involvement
If your child is prescribed oxytocin, you need to ensure your child takes it each day. You also need to monitor its effects.
Costs vary depending on the form of oxytocin used – nasal spray, injection or lozenge.
Therapies and supports for autistic children range from behaviour therapies and developmental approaches to medicines and alternative therapies. When you understand the main types of therapies and supports for autistic children, it’ll be easier to work out the approach that will best suit your child.