Researchers have found a correlation between low levels of the hormone vasopressin and the ability of children with autism to understand that other people have a different perspective than their own. During the study, researchers confirmed the levels of vasopressin in the blood chemistry of 159 children compared to an accurately reflected levels in the brain. Of these children, 57 had autism, 47 did not have autism but had siblings who had autism, and 55 were typical developing children with no autistic siblings.
Children in the study completed a standard psychiatric assessment of their neurocognitive abilities, social responsiveness, theory of mind, and ability to recognize other’s emotions (affect recognition). In all three groups, children had a wide range of vasopressin levels from low to medium to high levels, but children without autism had similar theory of mind scores regardless of their vasopressin blood levels. In the children with autism, low blood vasopressin was a marker for low theory of mind ability.
“Autistic children who had the lowest vasopressin levels in their blood also had the greatest social impairment,” said the study’s senior author, Karen Parker, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences.
Dr. Karen Parker, PhD, and Antonio Hardan, MD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, are investigating whether vasopressin treatment improves social ability in autistic children. Research will focus on whether the hormone is only beneficial for autistic children who start with low vasopressin levels or for all children with autism.
Source: Stanford Medicine News Center