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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

Antidepressant No Help for Autism Behaviors

Celexa for Autism No More Effective Than Placebo at Reducing Repetitive Behaviors, Study Shows
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Celexa for Autism: Study Results

After 12 weeks, about one of three children in each group -- 32.9% of those on Celexa and 34.2% of those on placebo -- showed fewer or less severe repetitive symptoms.

Side effects were more common in the children taking Celexa, the researchers found. Those on Celexa were more likely to have increased energy levels, impulsiveness, decreased concentration, hyperactivity, mechanical repetition of the same movement or posture, and sleep problems.

Treating Repetitive Behaviors: Other Opinions

In a commentary accompanying the study, Fred R. Volkmar, MD, of the Yale Child Study Center, speculates that the findings may change the widespread practice of prescribing antidepressants for children with autism and ASD.

Although the researchers note in the report of the study that different results might have been obtained with larger numbers of children, Volkmar says the King study is believed to be the largest such trial of the SSRIs in children with autism or ASD.

''It's important to realize the door is not necessarily closed on SSRIs,'' Volkmar tells WebMD. Other SSRI drugs may be found to help, says Volkmar, the Irving B. Harris Professor at Yale.

The study finding also suggests that researchers should explore why the SSRI drugs seem to work well overall in adults but not always in children, he says.

Forest Laboratories, which makes Celexa, says in a statement, "Forest Laboratories was not involved in this study and therefore cannot provide comment."

The results are ''disappointing," says Thomas Insel, MD, director of the National Institute of Mental Health. "The bottom line is, it doesn't sound like the medication is any better than placebo."

Because repetitive behaviors can be a significant problem, he says, "The question is, is there something else that can be used?"

Because Celexa didn't work for the autism-related repetitive behaviors but does work for those associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder, Insel says the findings may yield a clue that the behaviors are fundamentally different in some way.

Another expert, Geraldine Dawson, PhD, chief science officer for Autism Speaks, an advocacy and research organization, agreed that the study suggests the "underlying biology" is different for obsessive-compulsive disorder and autistic behaviors. The study finding "really does suggest that this drug is not going to be helpful for repetitive behaviors," she says.

Earlier this year, Autism Speaks released initial results of its study of another SSRI, Prozac, finding it also not effective in reducing repetitive behaviors compared to placebo. However, the study is continuing.

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