The British Journal of Psychiatry
Parent-child interaction and oxytocin production in pre-schoolers with autism spectrum disorder
Ruth Feldman, Ofer Golan, Yael Hirschler-Guttenberg, Sharon Ostfeld-Etzion, Orna Zagoory-Sharon
  • Declaration of interest

    None.

Abstract

Background

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is associated with genetic risk on the oxytocin system, suggesting oxytocin involvement in ASD; yet oxytocin functioning in young children with ASD is unknown.

Aims

To assess baseline oxytocin in pre-schoolers with ASD and test whether oxytocin production may be enhanced by parent-child contact.

Method

Forty pre-schoolers with high-functioning ASD were matched with 40 typically developing controls. Two home visits included an identical 45-minute social battery once with the mother and once with the father. Four saliva oxytocin samples were collected from each parent and the child during each visit.

Results

Children with ASD had lower baseline oxytocin. Following 20 min of parent-child interactions, oxytocin normalised and remained high during social contact. Fifteen minutes after contact, oxytocin fell to baseline. Oxytocin correlated with parent-child social synchrony in both groups.

Conclusions

Oxytocin dysfunction in ASD is observed in early childhood. The quick improvement in oxytocin production following parent-child contact underscores the malleability of the system and charts future directions for attachment-based behavioural and pharmacological interventions.

Footnotes

  • Funding

    The study was supported by the German-Israeli Science Foundation (1114-101.4/2010), the Irving B. Harris Foundation, the US-Israeli Bi-National Science Foundation, and the Association for Children at Risk, Israel.

View Full Text

Log in through your institution

Purchase Short-Term Access 
Pay per Article - You may access this article (and download the PDF version) for 1 day for US$30.00.
Pay per Issue - You may access this issue (from the computer you are currently using) for 365 days for US$90.00.
Pay for Admission - You may access all content in The British Journal of Psychiatry (and download the PDF version) for 1 day for US$45.00.
Regain Access - You can regain access to a recent Pay per Article, Pay per Issue, or Pay for Admission purchase if your access period has not yet expired.