Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards is an adult, child, and adolescent psychiatrist. She is a former Chair of the Committee on Developmental Disabilities for the American Psychiatric Association, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, and Medical Director of the National Center for Children and Families in Bethesda, Maryland.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Medication does not treat the underlying neurologic problems associated with autism. Rather, medication is given to help manage behavioral manifestations of the disorder, such as hyperactivity, impulsivity, attention difficulties, and anxiety. In most cases, medication is given to lessen these problems so that the person can receive maximum benefit from behavioral and educational approaches.
Medications used in autism are psychoactive, meaning they affect the brain. Those used most often include the following:
Antipsychotic drugs: This is the most widely studied group of drugs in autism. These drugs have been found to reduce hyperactivity, repetitive behaviors, withdrawal, and aggression in some people with autism. The newer, atypical antipsychotics, including
risperidone (Risperdal), olanzapine (Zyprexa),
aripiprazole (Abilify), and quetiapine
(Seroquel), have replaced the older, traditional antipsychotics, which had
more side effects. Risperidone (Risperdal) and aripiprazole (Abilify) are now approved by the U.S. Food and
Drug Administration to treat
irritability, aggression, and self-injurious behaviors in children and
adolescents with autism.
Nonstimulant medications that treat ADHD may also help people with autism. These medications have been found to be equally effective as stimulants in their ability to increase the individual's ability to focus, manage their impulses and activity level. Examples of these medications are atomoxetine (Strattera) and
Other drugs: Other drugs may also help some people with autism. Anticonvulsants are frequently used to manage
seizures in people with autism. Anticonvulsants may also be used to stabilize mood and/or behavior. Alpha-2 adrenergic agonists (for
[Catapres]) are also sometimes used to manage hyperactivity and behavioral problems in some individuals with autism. Buspirone (Buspar) and propanolol have also been
Very few of these drugs have been tested in scientific studies in individuals with autism.
Moreover, issues related to dosage (especially
important in children), monitoring, and interactions with other drugs and
foods are concerns, as are short- and long-term side effects.
Many of these medications have side effects such as
sleepiness (sedation) or trouble sleeping (insomnia), weight loss or weight
Infrequently, dependence may develop with some of these drugs.
medications should be prescribed only by a medical professional experienced in treating persons with autism.
Autism is a condition that manifests in early childhoodand is characterized by qualitative abnormalities in social interactions, marked aberrant communication skills, and restricted repetitive and stereotyped behaviors.