Autism Medication (A comprehensive guide)

Autism medication


In this blog post, we will discuss what type of autism medication is most commonly prescribed and what it does.

This is intended for educational purposes, it will not replace specialized medical advice. 

Autism medication

The most commonly prescribed autism medications to treat autistic symptoms are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as sertraline (Zoloft) or fluoxetine (Prozac).

Even when there is clinical evidence on the currently used medication, approving their usage and considered safe for use with children, they are not specifically developed for autism.

Autism medication

We should start by understanding what autism means. In simple words, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)  is considered a developmental disorder, diagnosed during childhood, characterized mainly by evident difficulties in social and communication skills. 

When should medication be considered to treat autism?

Mental health professionals tend to recommend autism medication when every other treatment option has failed in an attempt to control the symptoms.

It is important to be aware that there is no miracle pill or cure for autism, it is actually a lifelong condition and treatment is often prescribed to treat other underlying conditions as is the case of anxiety, hyperactivity, and aggression.

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Autism medication

Mental health professionals tend to recommend autism medication when every other treatment option seems to have failed or is not providing the expected results, taking into consideration, that existing medication won’t actually affect the core symptoms of ASD.

It will provide relief to other symptoms, the ones related to anxiety, aggressiveness, and hyperactivity.

When opting for autism medication, it is necessary to think about the possible related side effects since they won’t affect everyone the same way, each person and body responds differently and the effects can even vary as time goes on.

Some might even develop tolerance or sensitization and this will actually worsen side effects. 

The medications considered appropriate for autism can be divided into three main groups: the ones used to treat co-occurring symptoms related to ADHD, antipsychotics, and antidepressants/anti-anxiety meds.

ADHD Medications

A few years ago, when talking about autism automatically ADHD came into the picture.

That is not the case anymore, now we know that the two conditions are different but might frequently co-occur undermining even more academic, behavioral and social progress. 

This may result in the inability to complete tasks, inattention, and impulsivity.

So treating ADHD symptoms and removing it from the equation can bring benefits at home (in tasks such as reading or writing), school,  socially or even during psychotherapy. 

There are two types of drugs: the non-stimulant (which succeed less frequently) and stimulants (which cause higher side effects). For the first group, the non-stimulant, their know effect is increasing activity in the parts of the brain associated with ADHD. 

Some of the advantages include helping with sleep or over reactiveness (anger or frustration) and can have 24-hour coverage.

However, they are not exempt from side effects and some of them can include excessive sleepiness, irritability, headaches, and stomach upset. 

Antipsychotics Medications

Examples of these medications are Risperdal or Abilify and they are the only medicines approved for children with autism.

Additionally, these have been proven to improve anxiety, impulsivity and mood swings. 

It can not be forgotten that there can be side effects while using this type of medicines and some of them can include weight gain, risk of diabetes, among others. 

Children under antipsychotic medications need to periodically get checked for sugar levels and weight. 

Antidepressants and Anti-anxiety Medications

Children with autism can experience many day-to-day challenges due to anxiety or obsessive behaviors (e.g., running away from new or unknown situations, separation anxiety or compulsive behaviors as washing or checking) can cause a lot of distress and frustration. 

Fortunately for some, reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs come to the rescue. You might have even heard their commercial names already: Zoloft or Prozac. But take into consideration, they are not specifically meant for autism 

Even though they may help with mood, obsessive-compulsive behaviors or mood swings, as in any other drug side effects could be present and should always be vigilant to signs and symptoms.

Autism medication

Other Options

Most parents and medical providers avoid medicating. The first recommended option among clinicians is behavioral therapy, however, it doesn’t always succeed.

This type of therapy provides techniques to manage this condition.

It is common among people with autism to have sleeping problems, in addition to behavioral therapy, sleeping aids, non-stimulant ADHD medications, and other drugs that can be considered when needed. 

Even though the medication is not considered good or bad it is important to get the appropriate information to make better decisions.

One of the leading autism science and family support organizations in the US offers a really useful tool for parents and caregivers to make better and informed decisions about medication.

If you want to know more click here.

Autism medication

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) about autism medication

What is the best medicine for autism?

The best medicine for autism is considered to be Risperidone (Risperdal) since it is the only FDA approved drug for the treatment of autism spectrum disorder in children and can be prescribed for children between 5 and 16 years old to alleviate irritability.

However, it is also recommended to combine this treatment with behavioral therapies, according to several studies.  

We would like to hear from you so please feel free to comment or ask any questions in the comments section below!

What drugs are used for treating autism?

The type of drugs used for treating autism belongs to the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) category, for example, fluoxetine and sertraline.

Most of the medicines are FDA-approved, providing treatment in children and adults for anxiety disorders and depression

What are the 5 types of autism?

The types of autism have been regrouped into 3 categories according to the latest update on the DSM-5, instead of 5 types as it was accepted before.

These categories are:

– Autistic Disorder:  also known as autism, childhood autism, early infantile autism, Kanner’s syndrome or infantile psychosis.

– Asperger Syndrome: also known as Asperger’s disorder or simply Asperger’s.

– Pervasive Developmental Disorder (Not Otherwise Specified), also known as PDD (NOS) or atypical autism.

Can ADHD medication help autism?

Medication for ADHD won’t “cure” or make core autism symptoms go away, but it can help with other co-occurring symptoms such as the ones related to hyperactivity, anxiety, irritability, self-injury, and aggression. 

Does autism go away?

Autism is thought to be a lifelong condition, but there is a small group of parents that have reported their child no longer having the core symptoms of autism.

Thomas Frazier, a doctor at the Cleveland Clinic might disagree with a child getting rid of autism, instead, he says this could be due to the wrong diagnosis to start with or replacing this diagnosis with another.

Why is this blog about autism medication important?

If you have a child with autism or you have autism, this blog can help you understand what options are out there when treating this condition.

Knowing the different drugs or existing medication, what they do and possible side effects can help while making informed decisions.

However, it is extremely important to consult with your healthcare provider or doctor so they can guide you better.

Recommended reading

  1. ATN/AIR-P Autism and Medication: Safe and Careful Use
  2. The Parent’s Guide to the Medical World of Autism: A Physician Explains Diagnosis, Medications and Treatments
  3. The LDN Book: How a Little-Known Generic Drug — Low Dose Naltrexone — Could Revolutionize Treatment for Autoimmune Diseases, Cancer, Autism, Depression, and More
  4. Healing Without Hurting: Treating ADHD, Apraxia and Autism Spectrum Disorders Naturally and Effectively Without Harmful Medications
  5. Asperger’s (ASD) The Elusive Syndrome: An Applied Rehabilitation Guide for Adults

References

NHS

ADDitude: When to consider autism medication

Child Mind Institute

Web MD: What Are the Treatments for Autism?

Drugs.com: Medications for Autism

Cleveland Clinic

Autism Medication (A comprehensive guide)

Juanita Agboola

Juanita Agboola is the editor in chief of HFNE and an expert in mental health online. She has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 2012. All Guides are reviewed by our editorial team which constitutes various clinical psychologists, PhD and PsyD colleagues.