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Autism Spectrum Disorders Health Center

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Tips for Parenting a Child With Autism

6. Assess Your Child's Need for Medication continued...

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests targeting the main problem behaviors when considering medicines. Medicines that are sometimes used to treat behaviors related to autism include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (antidepressants) and antipsychotic medicines.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) include Celexa, Prozac, and Zoloft, for example. The high rate of effectiveness for depression, anxiety, and obsessive, stereotypical behaviors has made these medicines a popular choice for managing autism. They may also improve general behavior, language, learning, and socialization. In addition, although SSRIs have side effects such as weight gain or loss, insomnia or drowsiness, and increased agitation, they tend to be less serious than those of antipsychotic medicines.

Antipsychotic medicines, such as Haldol, Risperdal, Zyprexa, and thioridazine work by changing the effects of brain chemicals. They may help decrease problem behaviors that can occur with autism. A well-designed study found that Risperdal was effective for the treatment of tantrums, aggression, and self-harming behavior in children with autism. Both Risperdal and Abilify have been formally approved by the FDA for treating irritability and aggression in children with autism.

However, these medicines can have side effects, including sleepiness, tremors, and weight gain. Their use is usually considered only after behavior management has failed to address the problem behaviors.

Other medicines that are sometimes used for behavioral problems in autism include:

  • Catapres and Tenex. These medicines are typically used to lower blood pressure, but are also used to treat impulsive and aggressive behaviors in children with autism. Kapvay and Intuniv, respectively, are longer-acting forms of these older agents, that have been FDA approved for use in hyperactive and impulsive individuals.
  • Lithium and anticonvulsants, such as carbamazepine and valproic acid. Children who are occasionally aggressive may become more stable when using these medicines, although monitoring the level of the drug in the body through regularly scheduled blood tests is required.

The effectiveness of these medicines varies. Side effects are possible and should be discussed with your health professional. Some health professionals may advise going off a medicine temporarily in order to identify whether it is having a positive or negative effect on the child with autism.

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