At a glance: Oxytocin
Type of therapy
Alternative
The claim
Improves anxiety, social skills and reduces repetitive behaviour
Suitable for
People who experience anxiety and difficulties with social recognition, including people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
Research rating
Find out more about this rating system in our FAQs.
Not yet reviewed by our research sources.
Warnings
Warning   Children might find the oxytocin nasal spray or injection distressing. Side effects are uncommon, but serious side effects can include allergic reactions, increased drinking, water intoxication, seizures, increased heart rate variability and psychotic symptoms.
Time
Estimate of the total time for family in hours per week and duration
0-10
Little time is needed to administer the oxytocin, but the treatment might be ongoing.
Cost
Estimate of cost to family per session/item or week
$0-30
Costs vary depending on the form of oxytocin used (nasal spray, injection or lozenge).

What is oxytocin?

Oxytocin is a hormone most commonly known for its role in helping with labour, birth and breastfeeding. It might also play a part in helping mothers connect with their newborn babies, and with the development of trust, love and social skills like the ability to recognise emotions and empathise.

Who is oxytocin therapy for?

Oxytocin can be used for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who have anxiety, repetitive behaviour or social difficulties.

What is oxytocin therapy used for?

Oxytocin is used to improve the anxiety symptoms and social skills of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), 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 an intervention for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) 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?

Oxytocin plays a role in developing social skills and reducing repetitive behaviour.

Research has shown that some people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have reduced levels of oxytocin and also 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 ASD and could be a potential treatment for improving social skills and reducing repetitive behaviour. But the actions of oxytocin in the body and its effects on behaviour aren’t yet fully understood.

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.

Cost considerations

Costs vary depending on the form of oxytocin used (nasal spray, injection or lozenge).

Does oxytocin therapy work?

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. 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. To date, most studies have been for short-term use and in adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Who practises oxytocin therapy?

A GP, psychiatrist or paediatrician can prescribe oxytocin.

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.

Parent education, training, support and involvement

If your child is prescribed oxytocin, you need to ensure your child takes the medication every day. You also need to monitor its effects.

Where can you find a practitioner?

A GP, psychiatrist or paediatrician can prescribe oxytocin.

To find psychiatrists, go to Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists – Find a psychiatrist.

If you’re interested in this therapy, you could talk about it with your NDIA planner, NDIS early childhood partner or NDIS local area coordination partner, if you have one.

There are many treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for children with ASD takes you through the main treatments, so you can better understand your child’s options.

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Last updated or reviewed
31-07-2017

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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