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Medications for Autism Spectrum Disorders

Here are the basics about each of the medicines below. Only the most common reactions are listed. Ask your doctor if you need to take any special steps. Use each of these drugs as advised by your doctor or the booklet they came with. If you have any questions, call your doctor.

There are no specific treatments for autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Medicine can help treat certain behaviors such as anxiety, irritability, inattention, obsessive-compulsive habits, or aggression. Some of these are used as part of a more widespread care plan.

Prescription Medicine

 

Antidepressants

Common names:

  • Citalopram
  • Clomipramine
  • Escitalopram
  • Fluoxetine
  • Fluvoxamine
  • Sertraline

These drugs improve mood. They can also help with other problems that are common with ASD such as aggression or tantrums.

Clomipramine treats obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which shares features with ASD.

Some problems are:

 

Stimulants

  • Methylphenidate

This drug is mainly used for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It also may help certain forms of ASD where hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention are major problems.

Some problems are:

  • Addiction
  • Seizures
  • Worsening mental problems
 

Antipsychotics

Common names:

  • Aripiprazole
  • Chlorpromazine
  • Haloperidol
  • Thioridazine
  • Risperidone

These drugs are used to treat aggressive behavior, deliberate self-harm, and tantrums.

Some problems are:

  • Uncontrolled movements
  • High fever
  • Sleepiness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dry mouth
  • Weight gain
  • Liver harm

Special Considerations

When your child is taking any medicine:

  • Give your child the medicine as directed. Do not change the amount or schedule.
  • Use the measuring device that came with the medicine. If you need to use a spoon, cup, or syringe, make sure it has the units that match your child’s prescription. For example, if the medicine is given in milliliters (mL), the device should have mL on it.
  • Be aware of the side effects of your child's medicine. Tell your child’s doctor if they have any.
  • Talk to your child’s doctor before stopping any prescription medicine.
  • Medicine can be harmful when mixed. Talk to your child’s doctor or pharmacist if your child is taking more than one medicine. This includes over-the-counter products and supplements.
  • Plan for refills as your child needs them.

Some medicine may cause unexpected reaction in some children. Keep close track any behavior changes when using medicine. Report any problems to their care team as soon as possible.

REFERENCES:

Autism. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/Autism/Pages/default.aspx. Accessed August 8, 2019.

Autism spectrum disorder. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/autism-spectrum-disorders-asd/index.shtml. Updated March 2018. Accessed August 8, 2019.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/index.html. Updated April 5, 2019. Accessed August 8, 2019.

Autism spectrum disorders. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113665/Autism-spectrum-disorders. Updated July 1, 2019. Accessed August 8, 2019.

Johnson CP, Myers SM, American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Children with Disabilities. Identification and evaluation of children with autism spectrum disorders. Pediatrics. 2007;120(5):1183-1215.

Last reviewed December 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrian Preda, MD  Last Updated: 8/8/2019