News and Notes from The Johnson Center

Q & A: Are there any medications that can assist with the symptoms and behaviors associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

JCCHD | Mon, July 30, 2012 | [Autism Treatment][Healthcare][Q and A ]

There is a saying within the autism community: “If you’ve seen one person with autism, you’ve seen one person with autism.”  People affected by autism often present quite differently from one another. These differences require individualized interventions designed to address each person’s specific needs. Along with behavioral therapy, dietary support and intervention, and the use of appropriate supplements, medications can sometimes be used to address some of the behaviors that may be the result of illnesses and imbalances.

Goggle HandsIn 2006 the FDA approved the use of risperidone (Risperdal) for the treatment of irritability in people with autism, and in 2009, aripiprazole (Abilify). Although a number of medications have been used to address behaviors such as hyperactivity, focus and attention, and aggression (symptoms often associated with autism), other than risperidone and aripiprazole, no medication has received FDA approval to be used for the treatment of autism. It is important to keep in mind that no medication is without side effects (and some, including risperidone and aripiprazole, come with some significant ones).

Along with difficult behaviors, many children with autism have health issues that require medical treatment. A wide variety of conditions, including, but not limited to, gastrointestinal problems, food and environmental allergies, sleep, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), hyperactivity, seizures, thyroid imbalances, and immune dysfunction are seen in individuals with autism. These conditions may or may not have caused autism, but they could be contributing to some behaviors associated with an autism diagnosis and addressing them through appropriate interventions may reduce or eliminate the need for medication for behavioral management.

Finding the right medication or combination of medications can be a process of informed trial and error. For this reason, it is important to communicate about any changes that you note during the process of starting, increasing/decreasing, or stopping any medication with your doctor.  It is also very important to always tell each of your child’s health care providers about all of the medications and supplements being taken because some medications and supplements can interact, causing dangerous side effects.

Medications like risperidone and aripiprazole are generally used in an effort to reduce the concerning symptoms. Addressing symptoms alone rather than focusing on the causative factors may not produce desired and long-lasting results and the side effects can outweigh the benefits. For this reason The Johnson Center focuses on determining and addressing the root causes of problem behaviors or concerns rather than trying to manage the symptoms alone. In combination with nutritional support through diet and supplements, medications may be used to treat certain conditions your child might have but the use of prescription medication for behavior management is best used as a final step in a series of treatment options for children with ASD.  The construction and implementation of a comprehensive, individualized plan that addresses illness and dysfunction has been successful for most children and families served by The Johnson Center.