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Study Finds Promise for Steroids in Regressive Autism

By Shana R. Spindler, PhD on July 31, 2014


Background: About a third of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) experience a period of normal early development followed by loss of previously acquired language and social skills. While no evidence-based treatments exist for this type of regressive autism (R-ASD), some doctors have reported that corticosteroid use improves language and behavior scores. Corticosteroids are chemicals that mimic hormones naturally produced by the body. They act by suppressing inflammation and the immune system.
What’s new: From a large database of patients, researchers identified twenty children who had received steroid treatments to investigate if corticosteroids benefit children with R-ASD. Twenty four non-treated ASD children were used for comparison. Their study found that children with R-ASD who had received corticosteroids showed greater improvement in language and social skills than those who did not receive steroid treatment. The researchers also found that corticosteroids increased activity in an area of the brain known for auditory processing and the perception of emotions.


Why it’s important: While this study was a small retrospective (the researchers used data from previously acquired measurements), it indicates a need for a larger controlled study of corticosteroid treatment for R-ASD with appropriate controls. The most common adverse effects from corticosteroids in this study included weight gain and difficulty in managing the child’s behavior.

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