Declaration of interest
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.
To assess baseline oxytocin in pre-schoolers with ASD and test whether oxytocin production may be enhanced by parent-child contact.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Royal College of Psychiatrists