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This Blood Pressure Medication Could Improve Social Skills Of People With Autism

A standard medication used to treat high blood pressure may have a hidden benefit. Preliminary studies at the University of Missouri indicate that propranolol may help improve the language skills and overall socialization of people with autism.

In the University of Missouri’s study, people with autism who were given propranolol showed an increased ability to reciprocate and handle the normal turn-taking involved in conversation. Specifically, they were better able to share information with their conversation partners, to handle interruptions, and to stay on topic an hour after taking a 40-milligram dose of propranolol. The study’s subjects also got a boost to their nonverbal communications skills and eye contact abilities.

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Propranolol is meant to treat high blood pressure, but it has also alleviated performance anxiety off-label for many years. The University of Missouri study was the first to test propranolol’s ability to help those with autism improve conversational reciprocity skills. Although previous results dating back to 1987 hinted at the drug’s possible uses, this study was the first randomized, controlled one to test this particular connection.

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The researchers’ next step is to expand the study in a large clinical trial. The scientists hope to ascertain whether regular doses of propranolol continue to make a difference in the communication skills of people with autism. They also hope to specify who is most likely to benefit from any potential treatment to come out of these studies.

The University of Missouri’s study was not to help design a treatment for people with autism, but it’s an important early step in that process. More studies are needed to investigate issues of dosage and other specific treatment questions. While waiting for the results of future studies, you can take part in continuing autism research.

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