While there are no drugs that can correct the underlying neurological problems in ASDs, drugs used for other conditions are sometimes used to treat autism symptoms or behaviours associated with autism. Medicines can relieve some symptoms and may be helpful for some people. Severe hyperactivity, impulsivity, attention difficulties and anxiety may be reduced with anti-depressant medications or stimulant drugs used to treat ADD and other disorders, allowing the person with autism to benefit more from his/her educational and behavioural treatments. Anti-psychotic medications are sometimes used in extreme behavioural situations. Seizures will usually be treated with anti-convulsant medications.
There are widely differing opinions among researchers and experts regarding benefits and potential for harm when anti-depressants, anti-psychotic drugs and stimulant drugs are used for children with autism.
All medications should be prescribed by and discussed in detail with a doctor who treats autism. People with autism often have very sensitive nervous systems and normally recommended dosages may need to be adjusted. When new drugs are being discussed or prescribed, ask about the safety of use in children with ASDs, appropriate dosage, how it is administered (pills, liquid), and any long-term consequences, side effects or monitoring needed. Sometimes there are laboratory tests required before starting the drug and during treatment. Also ask about any possible interactions with other drugs, vitamins or foods.
Further reading: The National Institute of Mental Health: Has established a network of Research Units on Pediatric Psychopharmacology (RUPPs) that combine expertise in psychopharmacology and psychiatry.
The Autism Research Institute (ARI): Has collected data from parents about their experiences with psychiatric medications and other treatments. The results of this ongoing collection of parent survey data is available at this web site.
All information, data and material contained, presented or provided here is for general information purposes only and is not to be construed as reflecting the knowledge or opinions of Autism Canada, or as providing legal or medical advice. All treatment decisions should be made by the individual in consultation with a licensed health care provider.