A new drug that helps treat social withdrawal symptoms in children with Fragile X syndrome could offer hope to those with autism spectrum disorder.
Fragile X syndrome causes intellectual disability and is the most prevalent cause of autism.
A third of people with Fragile X also have autism, and researchers hope it could be used to help people on the autism spectrum function better in social situations.
In the trial, the drug arbaclofen was given to half a group of 63 patients aged six to 39. The other half were given placebos.
They found the participants who took arbaclofen were better able to hold conversations and function in groups. Those with the most severe social problems benefited most.
The drug works by balancing the brain's neurotransmitters, which are the chemical messengers that communicate between brain cells.
Melissa Webster, accreditation manager at Amaze (Autism Victoria), told ninemsn the drug is really exciting because there are currently no others that can help people with social interaction problems.
"It's very promising," she said.
"We look forward to receiving more information on how the drug can benefit people on the autistic spectrum. The only drugs at the moment focus on secondary characteristics such as anxiety."
Individuals on the autistic spectrum have difficulty in three main areas — social interaction, communication and flexibility of thinking. They can also experience repetitive behaviours and difficulty with their senses.
At the moment they undergo behavioural therapy to help them manage social situations.
Katie Clapp, co-founder of the FRAXA Research Foundation, told USA Today that increasing people's communication with the world would be incredibly helpful.
"Sociability opens the door to learning," said Clapp, whose 23-year-old son has Fragile X.
"These kids spend so much time hovering in the corner, unable to interact with others."
The study was published in Science Translational Medicine.
Arbaclofen has not yet been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.