Medication for Treating Autism
Medications are often used to treat behavioral problems, such as aggression, self-injurious behavior, and
severe tantrums. These behaviors interfere with a child from functioning more effectively at home or
school. The medications used are those that have been developed to treat similar symptoms in other
disorders. Many of these medications used for autism may have not been officially approved by the FDA
for use in children, but the doctor prescribes them if he or she feels they are appropriate for your child.
Further research needs to be done to ensure not only the efficacy but the safety of experimental drugs
used in the treatment of children and adolescents.

There are a number of medications, developed for other conditions which have been found effective in
treating some of the symptoms and behaviors frequently found in individuals with autism. The goal of
medications is to reduce these behaviors to allow the individual with autism to take advantage of
educational and behavioral treatments. People with autism have very sensitive nervous systems. Some
individuals may require much lower doses of medications than people with a normal nervous system. This
will vary from individual to individual.

A child with ASD may not respond in the same way to medications as typically developing children. It is
important that parents work with a doctor who has experience with children with autism. A child should be
monitored closely while taking a medication. The doctor will prescribe the lowest dose possible to be
effective. Ask the doctor about any side effects the medication may have and keep a record of how your
child responds to the medication.

We do not endorse any specific medication. The information provided here is meant as an overview of the
types of medications sometimes prescribed. Be sure to consult a medical professional for more information.


Risperdal, an anti-psychotic drug, has just been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat
the symptoms of autism in children and adolescents ages 5 to 16. It’s the first time the FDA has approved
any drug to treat behaviors such as aggression, deliberate self-injury and severe temper tantrums
associated with autism in children. Some doctors warn that the drug should be used only after other
treatments are tried that don’t involve medication.

The FDA’s new approval for the use of Risperdal for autistic children comes after two eight-week placebo-
controlled trials in 156 patients ages 5 to 16, 90 percent of whom were ages 5 to 12. If intervention without
medication is not successful in changing the child’s behavior and if the child is doing such things as
banging his/her head or biting themselves, then perhaps there is a place for pharmacological intervention.
Risperdal should be used thoroughly and not as the first form of treatment.

The National Autism Association, an advocacy group for families of autistic children, has serious concerns
about Risperdal. Many worry about the side effects of Risperdal, which can include drowsiness, fatigue,
constipation and weight gain. There also are rare reactions, such as extreme weight gain, the seeping of a
milk-like substance from nipples in both girls and boys, and a neurological disorder causing involuntary
movements, which according to the drug manufacturer can sometimes be permanent.

The most common adverse reactions with Risperdal include unconsciousness, increase in appetite,
fatigue, upper respiratory tract infection, increase in saliva, constipation, dry mouth, tremor, muscle
stiffness, dizziness, involuntary movements, restlessness, repetitive behavior, rapid heart beat, confusion,
and increase in weight. Some people may need regular blood sugar testing. Studies suggest an increased
risk of elevated blood sugar-related side effects, and sometimes potentially fatal, in patients treated with
this class of medications, including Risperdal. Risperdal may affect alertness and motor skills; use caution
until the effect of Risperdal is known.
The safety and effectiveness of Risperdal in pediatric patients with autistic disorder less than 5 years of
age have not been established. If you or the child observes these symptoms, talk to your healthcare
professional. The dosage of Risperdal should be individualized for children and adolescents based on


Secretin is a chemical messenger one of the hormones that controls gastric function digestion. Although
secretin is generally considered safe for single dose diagnostic use, no data are available yet as to the
safety of repeated doses over time and no data have been submitted on its safety and efficacy for
children. Secretin is not approved by the FDA for the treatment of Autism. Some physicians may use this
drug as treatment at their own discretion. However, without a proper antibodies test first this drug might
become a serious problem.

Researchers are concerned about side effects over time on the young child and many remain worried with
allergic reactions. Currently, the risks appear to be exceeding the gains by a long margin. It was reported
three children with autistic spectrum disorders who underwent upper gastrointestinal endoscopy and
injections of secretin. All three within 5 weeks of the secretin treatment, exhibited a significant improvement
of the children's gastrointestinal symptoms was observed, as was a dramatic improvement in their
behavior, manifested by improved eye contact, alertness, and expansion of expressive language. These
clinical observations suggest an association between gastrointestinal and brain function in patients with
autistic behavior. Reports indicate that it is also effective in social development.

No double-blind, placebo-controlled studies of secretin treatment in autism have been conducted At the
present time, there is no agreed upon procedure to determine which children may potentially benefit from
the use of this drug. Physicians are advised that, like all drugs, there is the possibility of adverse events
that may be associated with individual allergies or sensitivity. Although it is possible that some of the
patients respond well to the research studies, the available evidence does not suggest that secretin is a
useful treatment for children with autism.

Serotonin and anti depressants

Serotonin reuptake inhibitors have been effective in treating depression, obsessive-compulsive behaviors,
and anxiety that are sometimes present in autism. Because researchers have consistently found elevated
levels of serotonin in the bloodstream of one-third of individuals with autism, these drugs could potentially
reverse some of the symptoms of serotonin impairments in autism. Serotonin has affected the regulation of
many functions, such as learning, memory, sensory and motor processes, and, most important for
treatment, repetitive behaviors that are relevant to autism.

Studies have shown that several anti depressants may reduce the frequency and intensity of repetitive
behaviors, and may decrease irritability, tantrums and aggressive behavior. Some children have shown
improvements in eye contact and responsiveness. However, all these drugs have potential side-effects,
which should be discussed before treatment is started.

Anti-psychotic medications have been the most widely studied in autism over the past 35 years. Originally
developed for treating schizophrenia, these drugs have been found to decrease hyperactivity, stereotypic
behaviors, withdrawal and aggression in individuals with autism. Like the antidepressants, these drugs all
have potential side effects, including sedation.

Stimulants used to treat hyperactivity in children with ADHD have also been prescribed for children with
autism. Although few studies have been done, they may increase focus, and decrease impulsivity and
hyperactivity in autism, particularly in higher-functioning children. Dosages need to be carefully monitored,
however, because behavioral side effects are often dose-related.

There is increasing recognition that childhood autism can be favorably modified by appropriate medication.
Medications that proved to be beneficial are the same as those used for mood disorder in the non-autistic
population, namely SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), atypical antipsychotics, and mood
stabilizers (lithium or antiepileptic agents).

Divalproex Sodium

The Divalproex (Depakote) Study examines efficacy of Divalproex sodium, a drug that is already FDA-
approved for the treatment of epilepsy or manic episodes associated with bipolar disorder. This mood
stabilizer may help in reducing autistic symptoms, such as impulsivity, aggression, and social and language
deficits, in children/adolescents with autism.

The present study evaluated the use of divalproex in the treatment of repetitive, compulsive-like symptoms
of autism spectrum disorder. Thirteen individuals with ASD participated in an 8 week, double-blind,
placebo-controlled trial of divalproex sodium vs. placebo. There was a significant group difference on
improvement in repetitive behaviors as measured by the Children's Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive
Scale. This study provides preliminary support for the use of divalproex in treating repetitive behaviors in
ASD. Further research is needed to evaluate the specificity and mechanism of action of these findings.

No Cure for Autism

There is no cure for autism spectrum disorders. As of now there is no one method alone used effectively in
treating autism. However, professionals and families have found that a combination of treatments may be
effective in treating symptoms and behaviors that make it hard for individuals with autism to function.
These may include behavioral and pharmacological interventions. While there are no drugs, vitamins or
special diets that can correct the underlying neurological problems that seem to cause autism, parents and
professionals have found that some drugs used for other disorders are sometimes effective in treating
some aspects of or behaviors associated with autism.
Stimulant Medications
3 and older
Adderall XR
(extended release)
6 and older
(long acting)
6 and older
6 and older
3 and older
3 and older
6 and older
Metadate ER
(extended release)
6 and older
6 and older
Non-stimulant for ADHD
6 and older
*Because of its potential for serious side effects affecting the liver, Cylert should not ordinarily be
considered as first-line drug therapy for ADHD.
Antidepressant and Antianxiety Medications
10 and older (for OCD)
18 and older
18 and older
Luvox (SSRI)
8 and older (for OCD)
Paxil (SSRI)
18 and older
Prozac (SSRI)
18 and older
Serzone (SSRI)
18 and older
12 and older
6 and older (for bedwetting)
18 and older
Zoloft (SSRI)
6 and older (for OCD)
Antipsychotic Medications
Clozaril (atypical)
18 and older
3 and older
Risperdal (atypical)
18 and older
Seroquel (atypical)
18 and older
2 and older
Zyprexa (atypical)
18 and older
12 and older (for Tourette's
syndrome—Data for age 2 and
older indicate similar safety profile)
Mood Stabilizing Medications
lithium citrate
12 and older
valproic acid
2 and older (for seizures)
lithium carbonate
12 and older
lithium carbonate
12 and older
any age (for seizures)          Developmental Disorders          Autism          Parenting Issues