Autism medications will not cure autism. Instead, autism medication treats the symptoms and behavior common to the disorder. Children suffering from severe anxiety, obsessive compulsive behavior, or self-injurious behavior (self-stimulation such as head-banging and finger-biting) may find relief through medication. Other medication is used to treat conditions that accompany autism, such as epilepsy, which often develops in autistic teens.
The following are some of the more common autistic medications. The list of drugs and medication offered here is by no means exhaustive. Autistic children have a wide range of symptoms and behavior; medication use must be customized to each child’s needs.
Antidepressant drugs are used to treat depression, anxiety, and obsessive compulsive behavior. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are often used to treat autism symptoms. Response to the medication varies, but in general, antidepressant medication reduces the frequency and severity of self-stimulation behavior and tantrums. There is also some indication that antidepressant drugs increase an autistic child’s ability to maintain eye contact.
Side effects of antidepressants vary widely. Headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, increased anxiety and insomnia are all possible side effects. Ask your doctor for the specific side effects associated with any antidepressant medication prescribed.
Antipsychotic drugs were originally designed to treat schizophrenia, but have been found to have some effects on autistic behavior. Butyrophenones are prescribed for severe aggression and self-stimulation. Other antipsychotic medication is also used to treat hyperactivity, self-stimulation behavior, aggression, and social withdrawal.
Withdrawal symptoms are possible side effects of long-term antipsychotic medication use. Other side effects may include anxiety, dizziness, drowsiness, headaches, and unwanted sedation.
Stimulants such as RitalinÂ® and low-dose amphetamines are used to treat attention deficit behavior. The medication can improve focus and attention, and control impulsive self-stimulation and obsessive compulsive disorder.
Side effects include abdominal pain, insomnia, hypertension, loss of appetite, anxiety, and rapid heartbeat. The possibility also exists of drug dependency with long-term stimulant use.
Benzodiazepines include drugs such as ValiumÂ®, and are used to treat autistic behavior problems. Side effects may include dependency, muscle pain, convulsions, insomnia, and vomiting.
Adams, J. (nd). Effect of vitamin/mineral supplements on children with autism. Retrieved October 20, 2003, from http://www.eas.asu.edu/~autism/Advice/VitaminsMineralsFinal.doc.
British National Formulary. (nd). Butyrophenones. Retrieved October 16, 2003, from www.bnf.org/bnf/bnf/current/doc/41001i384.htm.