Understanding Medications for Autism Spectrum Disorders

2012-03-26 08:57

Many children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can benefit from medications, but unfortunately there is a very poor understanding of overall medication use for these kids, says Paul T. Shattuck PhD, an assistant professor with the Brown School at Washington University.

As of now, there are not any drugs that will help with the core symptoms of autism, including social withdrawal. Medications are often used to treat behavioral problems, such as aggression, self-injuring behaviors, and severe tantrums that keep them from functioning more effectively at school or home.

Most often, the medications have been officially approved by the US FDA for another disorder, but are prescribed for children with autism “off-label.” Children with co-morbid conditions, such as anxiety or depression, epilepsy, or ADHD are prescribed additional medications to treat those symptoms.

Behavioral Medications

The first medication approved for behaviors in children and adolescents with autism was Risperdal (risperidone) in October of 2006. This drug treats irritability, aggression, sudden mood changes, and self-injurious behaviors. The drug is also approved for use in schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Risperidone is an antipsychotic which works by changing the activity of certain natural brain chemicals. Side effects of the drug include drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, constipation, increased appetite and weight gain, difficulty falling or staying asleep, or (unfortunately) agitation.




Let’s start with depression. As I understand it, pretty much for everyone, it is trial and error in a respectful sense. It might be the 5th antidepressant which really works, or it might be the ninth. This is the just way the game is played and won. And sometimes it’s also important to come off the antidepressant in stages even if it doesn’t seem to be working. And it sure helps to have a doctor who’s willing to tinker. Now, let’s talk autism. The glaring omission in this article is sensory issues. People with autism sometimes bang themselves in an attempt to relieve sensory issues. This entire article is written from the outside looking in. The autistic person is not “normal” and therefore let’s get him or her to appear as normal as possible. That is a very unsatisfying goal. Much better is engagement, not conformity. There are people who are open to other people who are different, probably not a majority, but still a goodly number of people. And on the issue of repetitive physical motions or “stimming,” even normal people will bounce a leg during an algebra test or fiddle with poker chips or fiddle with a pen while trying to do something on a computer. I am an adult in his late 40s who self-diagnoses as being on the Asperger’s-Autism Spectrum. Yes, I have at times struggled with jobs, but I have often done a good job, if anything I’m overly serious (and someone dismissively telling me to relax generally does not help). You may have heard that there are a number of famous people speculated to have been “on the spectrum.” And really, the next stage is for people to understand that there are all kinds of medium-functioning and average people on the spectrum, too. And we just want to be accepted and appreciated as human beings just like everyone else.
What are the best anxiety meds for spectrum kids that many use these days? What do doctors prescribe the most, anyone knows?