Print, Share, or View Spanish version of this article
Medications are not the primary treatment for autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). Medications have not been shown to directly improve language or social skills. However, medications may help with behaviors that get in the way of progress in your child's intervention program. Such behaviors include
Your child's pediatrician may recommend medicine for your child if these behaviors disrupt learning, socializing, health and safety, or quality of life and if your child is not responding to behavioral treatments. Your child may have another diagnosis, such as depression or epilepsy, that is treated with medicine. Many children with ASDs, however, do not need to be treated with medication.
The most common medications for children with ASDs are called atypical antipsychotics, stimulants, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), alpha-2 agonists, and certain anticonvulsants. A variety of other medications are also used in some cases. At this time, risperidone and aripiprazole (both atypical antipsychotics) are the only medications that have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration specifically for children with ASDs to treat irritability (including aggression, deliberate self-injury, and temper tantrums).
Choice of medication depends on the child and specific behaviors. Medications are not helpful for all children with ASDs or for all related problem behaviors. Medication may be prescribed by the child's pediatrician or family doctor or by a specialist such as a child psychiatrist, pediatric neurologist, neurodevelopmental pediatrician, or developmental and behavioral pediatrician.
Before starting your child on a medication, work with her doctor. Look for medical factors that might be causing or increasing the behavior. For example, your child may have a hidden source of pain, such as an ear infection, that leads to self-injurious behavior. Perhaps a change in routine at school or home is upsetting your child and causing disruptive outbursts. Sometimes, if you address these factors, there is no longer a need for medication.
Discuss treatment options other than medication. Often, behavioral strategies are the best way to decrease problem behaviors, and they should be tried before medication is given. Medications are most often used with behavioral interventions, not in place of them. Once in a while, medication may be needed as a first-line treatment when the safety of the child or others is at risk.
Ask your child's pediatrician about possible benefits and side effects of any medication. It is important for everyone to know what to expect. You should also tell your doctor what other medications, including dietary supplements and other complementary treatments, your child is taking.
Target behaviors must be measured to find out what effect the medication is having. Side effects should also be monitored. Your child's pediatrician may ask you to fill out behavior checklists to help watch for behavioral changes or side effects. You may be asked to have teachers, therapists, and other caregivers describe changes they see in your child. With some medications, your child may need periodic blood tests or electrocardiograms (ECGs) because possible side effects of the medications include blood, liver, or heart rhythm problems. The dose of the medication often has to be changed depending on how well it is working and whether there are any side effects. Dosage may also change as your child grows. Your child's pediatrician should continue a medication only if the benefits are greater than any negative effects.
Give medicines exactly as the doctor tells you—amount and time of day. Everyone forgets to give a medicine on time once in a while. Ask the doctor or pharmacist what to do if this happens.
Do not stop, restart, increase, or decrease medicines without asking the doctor first. If a medicine seems to stop working, it may be because it is not being taken regularly. Your childmay be cheeking or hiding the medicine or forgetting to take it (especially at school). Doses may be too far apart, or your child may need a different dose now. Something at school, at home, or in the neighborhood may be upsetting your child. Or your child may need special help for learning disabilities or tutoring. Talk to your child's pediatrician about your concerns. Do not just increase the dose!
Keep all medicine out of the reach of all children, and supervise your child when taking medicine. If your child takes too much of a medicine, call your child's pediatrician, Poison Help (1-800-222-1222), or a hospital emergency department right away.
Each medicine has a generic or chemical name. Just like dish soap or paper towels, some medicines are sold by more than one company under different brand names. The same medicine may be sold under a generic name and several brand names. Generic medicines usually cost less than brand-name ones. Generic medicines have the same chemical formula, but they may not be exactly the same strength as brand-name medicines. Also, some brands of pills contain dye that can cause allergic reactions. Ask your child's pediatrician or your pharmacist whether your child should take a specific brand name of medicine.
All medicines can cause an allergic reaction. Allergic reactions include hives, itching, rashes, swelling, and trouble breathing. Even a tiny amount of a medicine can cause a reaction in patients who are allergic to that medicine. If your child has a reaction, call your child's pediatrician or your pharmacist right away. Be sure to talk to your child's doctor before restarting a medicine that has caused an allergic reaction in the past.
All medicines can have side effects. Your child may experience side effects, and you might not be sure if a symptom is caused by the disorder being treated or the medicine itself. Talk to your child's pediatrician if you have any concerns.
Taking more than one medicine at the same time may cause more side effects or cause one of the medicines to not work as well. Always ask your child's doctor, nurse, or pharmacist before adding another medicine, prescription or over the counter. Be sure that each doctor knows about all of the medicines your child is taking. Also, tell the doctor about any vitamins, herbal medicines, or diet supplements your child may be taking. Some of these may have side effects alone or when taken with medication.
Everyone taking medicine should have a checkup at least once a year in addition to routine medication monitoring visits. Taking your child to follow-up visits the pediatrician schedules is very important to check your child's response to the medicine and watch for side effects.
If you think your child is using street drugs or alcohol, please tell the doctor right away.
If you think your child may be pregnant, please tell the doctor right away. Pregnancy requires special care in the use of medicine.
Use one pharmacy for all your child's medicines. Some medications can interact with one another. These interactions can range in severity from mild to fatal. Your child may have more than one doctor prescribing medications for him, and the doctors may not be aware of other medications your child is receiving. Using one pharmacy will help decrease the chance of adverse drug interactions by allowing the pharmacist to review all of your child's medications.
Ask for childproof bottles for your child's medications. Accidental ingestion of prescription medications is potentially serious. Childproof bottles, in addition to keeping medications out of your child's reach, can help prevent this.
Ask how and where your child's medications should be stored and dispensed. Many people keep medications in the bathroom. The humidity in there can damage pills. Other medications need to be refrigerated. Some liquid medications must be shaken before being given to a child. Ask your pharmacist about these issues when you pick up a prescription.
If your medication is in liquid form, ask for something to measure it. Teaspoons and tablespoons used for eating are not accurate for measuring. Syringes and small medicine cups with accurate measurements are available from your physician or pharmacist.
Please Note: Printed information like this applies to children and adolescents in general. As researchers learn more, advice changes. Even experts don't always agree. Many medicines have not been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for use in children. For this reason, use for a certain problem or age group often is not listed in the Physicians’ Desk Reference. This does not necessarily mean that the medicine is dangerous or does not work. It means only that the company that makes the medicine has not asked for permission to advertise the medicine for use in children. Usually this is because it is expensive to do the tests needed to get that permission.
If you have questions about the medicine or if you notice anything unusual, please ask your child's doctor or nurse!
Family handout from Autism: Caring for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Resource Toolkit for Clinicians, 2nd Edition, developed by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Children With Disabilities Autism Subcommittee (ASC).
The information contained in these topics is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, it is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.
Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider before starting any new treatment or discontinuing an existing treatment. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Nothing contained in these topics is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment.
If you think that you are having a medical emergency,
call 911 or the number for the local emergency ambulance service NOW!
And when in doubt, call your doctor NOW
or go to the closest emergency department.
By using this website, you accept the information provided herein "AS IS." Neither RemedyConnect nor the providers of the information contained herein will have any liability to you arising out of your use of the information contained herein or make any express or implied warranty regarding the accuracy, content, completeness, reliability, or efficacy of the information contained within this website.
RemedyConnect, Inc. has created this privacy statement in order to demonstrate our firm commitment to your privacy. The following discloses our information gathering and dissemination practices for this website: http://www.remedyconnect.com.
Acquisition of Information through PMD
We do not acquire any more information about website visitors than is required by law or is otherwise necessary to provide a high level of service efficiently and securely. Our site's registration form requires users to give us contact information (e.g., their name and e-mail address) and demographic information (e.g., children's birth months, but not birth dates). We use customer contact information from the registration form to (1) send the user pertinent medical and parenting information and (2) allow your local health provider lists of who is registering on that provider's site as a parent/guardian, staff member, doctor, or visitor. Users may opt-out of receiving future mailings; see the choice/opt-out section below.
We use your IP address to help diagnose problems with our server and to administer our Website. Your IP address is used to help identify you and to gather broad demographic information.
Demographic and profile data is also collected at our site. We may use this data to tailor the visitor's experience at our site, showing them content that we think they might be interested in, and displaying the content according to their preferences.
Our site may use order forms to allow users to request information, products, and services.
Your Doctor's Right to Privacy
We will respect your doctor's right to privacy. A doctor typically does not give his/her e-mail address to the parents/guardians of patients. We will not provide the e-mail addresses of doctor(s) in the local practice to users of their site without the doctor(s)' permission. Their site is restricted to use by whomever they wish, and they may deny access to their site to one or more prior users. In unusual cases, doctors may change their private site's access code and arrange for us to e-mail the new access code to approved users.
This site contains links to other sites. RemedyConnect.com is not responsible for the privacy practices or the content of such Websites. See Disclaimers.
Disclosure to Third Parties
We will provide individually-identifiable information about website users to third parties only if we are compelled to do so by order of a duly-empowered governmental authority, we have the express permission of the visitor, or it is necessary to process transactions and provide you services from our affiliates: Live Agent Answering Service, Digital Answering Service, Medical Answering Service and Pediatric Answering Service.
Privacy and Our Business Partners
This site may make chat rooms, forums, message boards, and/or news groups available to its users. Please remember that any information that is disclosed in these areas becomes public information and you should exercise caution when deciding to disclose your personal information.
This site has security measures in place to protect the loss, misuse and alteration of the information under our control. For further information regarding our security, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have any concerns regarding the security of information, please do not provide any information to RemedyConnect, Inc. until you are comfortable with our security measures.
You may correct or update your User Registration information at any time, by visiting the User Registration section and providing your personal password that you set at registration. If need be, please email us at email@example.com.
Our site provides users the opportunity to opt-out of receiving e-mail communications from our partners or us, except communications approved by your doctor's practice office. To so opt-out, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To be removed as a user, please email us at the same address. If need be, you may mail requests to us at RemedyConnect, Inc., 9200 E. Mineral Avenue, Suite 100, Centennial, CO 80112. Our telephone number is 303-793-0703.
Contacting the Website
If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, or your dealings with this Website, you can contact us by email at email@example.com or by mail at our address above.