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September 16, 1983

Obesity drug, genetic studies renew hope for autism therapy

JAMA. 1983;250(11):1369-1370. doi:10.1001/jama.1983.03340110003001

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Joey looks like a normal 3-year-old. But left by himself in a room full of toys, he ignores everything except a mechanical top that he spins again and again, staring, flapping his hands, and squealing. He plays only with that top, in only that way, over and over. Joey's fixed, repetitive actions seem as mechanical as his favorite plaything.

Joey is autistic. At the recent meeting of the National Society for Children and Adults With Autism in Salt Lake City, participants saw several videotapes of Joey playing as part of a presentation on a new treatment for this baffling developmental disorder.

Joey was next shown after receiving experimental therapy with fenfluramine hydrochloride (a sympathomimetic amine used to treat obesity) for four months. In the same room, with the same toys, he now chose a toy train set, first putting together tracks, then pushing the train along while making choo-choo noises.