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Medication

Tammi Reynolds, BA & Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Medication

In addition to behavioral, communicative and social learning approaches, autism spectrum disorders are also often treated with medication. To be clear, medications are useful only as a means of managing symptoms of autism; they do not have the power to cure autism or in any way make it go away. Symptom management is not a trivial thing, however. A variety of medications are used with patients with autism, including antidepressant, anti-anxiety, psychotropic and stimulant medications that help regulate behavior and mood.

  • Antidepressants and Anti-Anxiety Medications. Antidepressant drugs, generally of the Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) variety, including brands like Zoloft, Luvox and Paxil, are sometimes prescribed to help autistic patients reduce self-stimulatory behaviors, repetitive movements and tantrums. These same drugs are prescribed for people with depression and some anxiety disorders (including obsessive-compulsive disorder) in other context.
  • Psychotropic Medications. Commonly thought of as anti-psychotics, psychotropic medications are frequently used to treat the symptoms of autism. They help reduce aggressive behaviors and repetitive movements and they have been found to lessen social withdrawal in some cases. Popular brands prescribed today include newer medications like Risperdal, Seroquel and Zyprexa. In other contexts these medicines are used to treat schizophrenia, and some forms of depression.
  • Stimulant Medications. Stimulant drugs such as those used to treat ADHD have been found useful for treating some cases of autism. Drugs like Adderall and Ritalin, which are buffered forms of methamphetamine, a stimulant drug sold on the street as "meth" or "crystal", are known to reduce hyperactivity and impulsiveness, in turn helping ADHD and some autistic patients to concentrate better and remain on task longer.
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