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Medications often used for Autism


1 Aug 2021

There are at present no medication treatment options which can cure autism spectrum disorder

There are at present no medication treatment options which can cure autism spectrum disorder (ASD) including all its symptoms. However, there are a range of different classes of drugs which can be used to reduce symptoms presented by patients with ASD.

Medication tends to be effective when used in combination with behavioural therapies. These work in combination by minimising symptoms such as aggression and enables the patient to focus more on learning and communication activities.

In the UK, the only approved medication for autism is Risperidone. A psychotropic medication approved for managing the behavioural symptoms of ASD.

All medication carries a level of risk which needs to be monitored closely. Families of patients should work closely with their healthcare practitioner to ensure the safe use of medication.

Healthcare providers often use medications to deal with a specific behaviour, such as to reduce self-injury or aggression. Minimizing a symptom allows the person with autism to focus on other things, including learning and communication. Research shows that medication is most effective when used in combination with behavioural therapies.1

The FDA has approved the use of some antipsychotic drugs, such as risperidone and aripiprazole, for treating irritability associated with ASD in children between certain ages.2 Parents should talk with their child's healthcare providers about any medications for children with ASD.

Other drugs are often used to help improve symptoms of autism, but they are not approved by the FDA for this specific purpose. Some medications on this list are not approved for those younger than 18 years of age. Please consult the FDA for complete information on the following listed medications.

All medications carry risks, some of them serious. Families should work closely with their children's healthcare providers to ensure safe use of any medication.

· Anti-psychotic (e.g. Risperidone)

o These types of medications affect the brain of the person taking them. The anti-psychotic drug risperidone is approved for reducing irritability in 5-to-16-year-olds with autism.

o These medications can decrease hyperactivity and reduce withdrawal and aggression among people with autism.

· Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (e.g. fluoxetine)

o This category of drugs work in the body by reducing chemical imbalances in the brain. Serotonin (happy chemicals) is regulated better with SSRIs helping brain cells to receive and send chemical messages.

o SSRIs may help to reduce the frequency and intensity of repetitive behaviours and helping to decrease anxiety

· Central nervous system stimulants(e.g. methylphenidate)

o This group of medication is often prescribed in patients who have increased hyperactivity.

o They are commonly used in patients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) with autism.

· Tricyclic antidepressants (e.g. Clomipramine)

o These medications are another type of antidepressant used to treat depression and obsessive-compulsive behaviours.

o These drugs seem to cause more minor side effects than do SSRIs. They may reduced irritability, hyperactivity, inadequate eye contact


· Anticonvulsants (e.g. sodium valproate)

o These groups of drugs are used for seizures

o Almost one-third of people with autism symptoms have seizures or seizure disorders.

· Hypnotics (e.g. melatonin)

o This is commonly prescribed in patients with insomnia in ASD

o Melatonin has a sedative effect by mimicking the natural sleep pattern