Autism medication does not treat the underlying neurological issues associated with autism. Medication is given to assist in managing behavioral symptoms of the disorder, such as hyperactivity, impulsiveness, attention difficulties, and anxiety. Medication is given to lessen these problems so the person can benefit from the behavioral modification and educational training.
Medications used in autism are psychoactive, meaning they affect the brain. Those used most often include the following:
• Antipsychotic drugs are the most widely studied group of drugs in autism. These drugs have been found to reduce hyperactivity, repetitive behaviors, withdrawal, and aggression in some people with autism. The newer, atypical antipsychotics, including risperidone (Risperdal), olanzapine (Zyprexa), and quetiapine (Seroquel), have replaced the older, traditional antipsychotics, which had more side effects.
• Antidepressants with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are one class of drugs that are commonly used to treat people with depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and/or anxiety. In some people with autism, these drugs reduce repetitive behaviors, irritability, tantrums, and aggression.
• Stimulants used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may help some people with autism. These drugs work by increasing the person's ability to concentrate and pay attention and by reducing impulsivity and hyperactivity. Examples include methylphenidate (Ritalin) and amphetamines (Adderall, Dexedrine).
• Anticonvulsants are frequently used to manage seizures in people with autism. Anticonvulsants may also be used to stabilize mood and/or behavior.
• Alpha-2 adrenergic agonists (clonidine) are also sometimes used to manage hyperactivity and behavioral problems in some individuals with autism.
• Buspirone (Buspar) and propanolol have also been used.
Very few of these drugs have been tested in scientific studies in individuals with autism. Issues related to dosage (especially important in children), monitoring, and interactions with other drugs and foods are concerns, as are short- and long-term side effects. Many of these medications have side effects such as sleepiness (sedation). Dependence may develop with some of these drugs. These drugs should be prescribed only by a medical professional experienced in treating persons with autism.
When medication is being discussed or prescribed, it's important to as the following questions:
• What is its safety record for children on the autism spectrum?
• What is the appropriate dosage?
• How is it administered (pills, liquid)?
• What are the long-term consequences of taking the medication?
• Are there possible side effects?
• How will monitoring occur and by whom?
• What laboratory tests are required before starting the drug and during treatment?
• Are there possible interactions with other drugs, vitamins or foods?
Given the complexity of medications, drug interactions, and the unpredictability of how each patient may react to a particular drug, parents should seek out and work with a medical doctor with expertise in the area of autism medication management and experience with individuals with ASD.
And don't forget, ask the autistic person. Remember, they are intelligent human beings and are often in the best position to tell you if they need some sort of autism medication to help them deal with the environment where they live. They are especially knowledgeable about medications if they have had previous experience with them.p>
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