Medications for Autism Spectrum Disorder: Types, Uses & Side Effects

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson briefly defines autism spectrum disorder. Then you'll learn about some of the general classes (and specific examples) of medications that might be used in this condition.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is a neurodevelopmental condition that begins in a person's early childhood, persists throughout their life, and affects the way the individual learns and communicates.

It's important to note, right from the start here, that there is no medication that can cure ASD. That being said, there are medications that can help manage this condition and its various neurobehavioral aspects. That's exactly what we're going to cover! First, we'll go over some of the kinds of medications that are used for ASD and what their target action is in this condition. Last, we'll go over the side-effects some of these medications may have and what impact that may have on a person's life.

Types & Uses

One general class of medications that might help in ASD is known as antipsychotic medications. Examples of these types of medications include risperidone and haloperidol. These medications can help reduce aggression, self-harm, and tantrums seen in individuals with ASD. They might also minimize tics, repetitive behaviors, irritability, and sleeping problems.

Another general class of medication that is used in some cases for people with ASD is known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, better known as SSRIs. Fluoxetine and sertraline are a couple examples of these medications. These medications may help those with autism with 'give and take' social interactions those without autism are used to. They may also help with anxiety, depression, as well as repetitive thoughts and behaviors.

Stimulants, such as methyphenidate, or alpha agonists, like guanfacine, can help with hyperactivity or short attention spans. Anticonvulsants, like carbamezapine, can help with seizures.

Side-effects and Impact

While these medications can certainly help those with autism, it's critical to note that it takes time and patience to find out which medication and how much of that medication is best for each individual person. What works for one person with autism will not, necessarily, work for another.

Just as well, it's important to realize that these medications have side-effects and some of these side-effects can certainly impact a person's life. Here are some good examples:

  • Some antipsychotics can lead to sleepiness and weight gain. This may decrease a person's quality of life if they can't enjoy the day when they're so sleepy or if they gain so much weight they have trouble moving about.
  • Certain SSRIs might lead to thoughts of suicide, problems falling asleep, as well as nausea and vomiting. As you can imagine, this can make a person feel miserable.
  • Stimulants can decrease a person's appetite, cause difficulties falling asleep, and might actually lead to emotional outbursts.
  • Anticonvulsants can also lead to sleepiness.

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