Medication for Children on the Autism Spectrum
There is no medication for the symptoms of autism. But children on the spectrum may take medication that is aimed at curbing aggression or other problematic or dangerous behavior. And kids on the spectrum may take medication for other disorders that they may have, including anxiety, depression or ADHD. Any doctor prescribing medication should do so carefully, but this is particularly important for children who may have multiple diagnoses.
Medication for behavior problems
Risperdal is a medication that’s widely used to treat children who are aggressive or excessively irritable. Risperdal can successfully calm down kids with severe behavior problems, enabling them to function in school and within their families. The FDA has approved it for that use. Without it, some children would require residential treatment.
It’s important to know that Risperdal has side effects that include substantial weight gain and metabolic, neurological and hormonal changes that can be harmful. Without effective monitoring by a professional, some children experience irreversible damage. Some experts are concerned that children are being treated with this medication in lieu of other treatment — including behavioral treatment — that could be effective without the risk of these side effects.
Medication for co-occurring ADHD
Most children with ADHD are prescribed stimulant medications. Different children metabolize medication in different ways, so finding the right type of stimulant and dosage for your child may take several weeks. Other children may be prescribed non-stimulant medication if they are not responding to stimulants or experience troubling side-effects even after careful adjustment of dosage or type of stimulant.
Medication for co-occurring depression
Medications most often prescribed to treat depression are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, which are also known as antidepressants. Clinicians may also prescribe an atypical antidepressant.
People struggling with depression can also benefit from therapy for depression, such as cognitive behavior therapy, dialectical behavior therapy or mindfulness.
Medication for co-occurring anxiety
The medications most often prescribed to treat anxiety are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. Benzodiazepines are also sometimes prescribed for kids who are extremely anxious, but people can develop a tolerance for them so they should be prescribed carefully.
Behavior therapy such as cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) is considered to be the best treatment for anxiety. Facing Your Fears is a kind of CBT developed for children with autism. Medication may be prescribed in addition to therapy or to make very anxious kids more open to therapy.