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Could new drug make a difference for kids with autism?

Drug being tested for autism behaviors
Drug being tested for autism behaviors 01:38

Fifteen-year-old Marshall Scarpulla is one of three children in his family with autism. His mother, Alissa Scarpulla, said she noticed some of the signs when he was 3 years old.

"He was having a speech delay and the school brought it to my attention, too," she told CBS News.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 children in the U.S. have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in the U.S.  People with ASD often have problems with social, emotional, and communication skills. April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day, meant to shine a light on those living with the disorder.

There is no cure for autism, but researchers at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx are studying whether a first-of-its-kind drug could make a difference for kids like Marshall.

"There are not any approved treatments for what we think of as the core symptoms of autism… all of the social difficulties, repetitive behaviors and the ability to function in everyday life," said Dr. Eric Hollander, director of the Autism and Obsessive-Compulsive Spectrum Program at Montefiore.

Marshall Scarpulla is taking part in a clinical trial for an autism drug called balovaptan. CBS News

Marshall is part of the nationwide clinical trial, which includes 300 children and teens with high functioning autism.

Researchers are testing whether the drug, balovaptan, can help with autism symptoms by preventing a molecule thought to influence social behavior from binding to brain receptors. Previous research on adults shows symptoms improved.

Hollander says the drug could be one piece of the puzzle. 

"There would still be need for speech therapy, occupational therapy, educational interventions, behavioral interventions," he explained.

Marshall's family doesn't know yet whether he's received a placebo or the actual drug, but his mother says she's seen a change in his behavior, which makes her hopeful.

"Hopefully it gets approved and we'll have a medicine for him," she said.

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