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Priming The Pathway: Combining Oxytocin And Behavioral Intervention To Improve Outcomes In Autism Spectrum Disorder

Katherine Kuhl Meltzoff Stavropoulos, Elizabeth Baker

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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by social-communication deficits and the presence of restricted interests and/or repetitive behaviors. There are currently no psychopharmacological agents approved to treat core symptoms of ASD. As such, behavioral interventions are the most effective method for improving symptoms. In the current chapter, we propose that administering the neuropeptide oxytocin in conjunction with evidence-based behavioral interventions may lead to improved outcomes in social-communication for children with ASD. From a mechanistic perspective, we hypothesize that oxytocin may “prime” social reward circuitry in the brain, thereby allowing behavioral interventions designed to increase social motivation/initiation to be more effective. Extant literature related to theories of ASD, oxytocin administration in children with ASD, and behavioral intervention outcomes are reviewed, and considerations for individual characteristics (e.g., genetics, oxytocin availability, age, behavioral profile, etc.) that may affect efficacy are discussed.