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Autism Cure? Pregnancy Hormone Offers New Hope

What can I say about autism? It encompasses my every daily thoughts. Why? Because I have a child affected by this condition.

To say that I was not frightened when we confirmed that our blessed child was autistic would be a lie. I was sad, angry and confused. However, I overcame those feelings, first through my overwhelming love for my child and God, and second by learning to understand the problem.

Today my guy is moving in a very positive direction, and the most important words that I ever wanted to hear from him, "Dad I love you," resonate in my heart just like when I thank God everyday for my family.

The autistic spectrum of behavioral conditions are attracting increasing attention each year through the efforts of researchers, parents groups, and yes-- the occasional government official--to figure out this enigmatic disease.

One out of 175 children born in the United States is diagnosed with a condition within the autistic spectrum. Efforts to curb the frequency with which autism and autistic spectrum disorders seem to occur have so far yielded limited results. However, I am always encouraged when I see scientific reports trying to understand the mechanics of autism.

This week, a new study presented at the meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology, conducted by Dr. Eric Hollander and Jennifer Bartz of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, offered some new encouragement. In the study, adult patients with autism were given Pitocin, the pharmaceutical name for oxytocin, a naturally occuring hormone in the brain that women are often given during childbirth to speed and regulate contractions.

In its simplest explanation, autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that can impair, to varying degrees of severity, a child's socialization--to communicate through language, to experience or express emotions, or to connect emotionally with other people or the world around him or her. Studies have linked oxytocin (not to be confused with the addictive painkiller oxycontin) in altering the pathways of social behavior in animals, and is believed to contribute to the intense feelings of bonding that new mothers feel toward their babies. The autistic adult subjects in the study who received Pitocin retained their ability to asses emotions, and showed a reduction of repetitive behaviors, which is one of the hallmarks of autistic spectrum disorders.

The clear implication of the study is that we are getting closer to understanding some of the chemical pathways of behavior, and getting closer to a possible cure for autism.

On a final note, whether we are talking about children with autism or early pre-school interventions for children with learning disabilities due to prematurity, we must give families all the support they need to help foster those young minds with the tools needed to succeed. Children are the hope of the world.

Dr. Manny Alvarez is the managing editor of health news at FOXNews.com, and is a regular medical contributor on the FOX News Channel. He is chairman of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Science at Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey. Additionally, Alvarez is Adjunct Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at New York University School of Medicine in New York City.

Dr. Manny Alvarez serves as Fox News Channel's Senior Managing Editor for Health News. Prior to this position, Alvarez was a FNC medical contributor.
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