, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 201-216

Brain opioids and autism: An updated analysis of possible linkages

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Considerable clinical evidence suggests that autistic children lack the normal ability or desire to engage others socially, as indicated by their poor social skills and inappropriate use of language for communicative purposes. Specifically, these children seem to lack normal amounts of social-emotional interest in other people, leading perhaps to a decreased initiative to communicate. This paper summarizes experimental evidence supporting a neurological theory, which posits that autism, at least partially, represents a disruptive overactivation of hypersensitization of neurohormone systems in the brain, such as brain opioids. These substances modulate socialemotional processes, and the possibility that blockade of opioid activity in the brain may be therapeutic for early childhood autism is discussed.

Comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript by Roger J. Ingham, Robert L. Koegel, Maurice I. Mendel, Carol A. Prutting, and Michael P. Rastatter are greatly appreciated. Special thanks also to Jill M. Mortali.
A longer version of this paper appears in E. Schopler & G. Mesibov (Eds.),Neurobiological Issues in Autism, Plenum Press, New York, 1986.