Best Autism Medication: List and Side Effects

Medications have an essential role in managing certain behaviors and symptoms. While there is no medication that can cure autism, some medications have been approved by the FDA for specific purposes related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Also, it’s important to note that medication should always be used in conjunction with other therapeutic approaches, such as ABA therapy for autism, as part of a comprehensive treatment plan.

FDA-Approved Medications

The FDA has approved certain medications for the treatment of specific symptoms associated with ASD. One example is the use of risperidone and aripiprazole to address irritability in children with ASD within certain age ranges. These medications, known as atypical antipsychotics, work by affecting dopamine levels in the brain, which are associated with pleasure, reward, mood, and decision-making.

Combination Therapy Approach

Research has shown that medication is most effective when used in combination with behavioral therapies. The combination therapy approach can help target specific behaviors associated with ASD, such as reducing self-injury or aggression, and improve a person’s ability to focus on learning and communication. Collaborating closely with healthcare providers is crucial to ensure the safe and appropriate use of medication.

In order to help manage co-occurring conditions or behaviors related to autism, more than 70% of children and adolescents with autism are prescribed medication. According to a 2013 study, 64% of children with autism were given at least one psychiatric medication, and 35% of them were taking multiple prescriptions. Adults with autism may also take more than one medication.

It’s important to remember that all medications carry risks, including serious ones when not used properly. Families should work closely with healthcare providers to monitor the effects and side effects of any medication used for individuals with ASD. Regular communication and follow-up visits are essential to ensure that the medication is providing the desired benefits while minimizing any potential risks.

Commonly Prescribed Medications

When it comes to treating autism, medication can play a role in managing certain symptoms and behaviors. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, several prescribed medications have shown effectiveness in addressing specific challenges. Let’s explore three of these medications: risperidone and aripiprazole, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and stimulants like Ritalin and Concerta.

Risperidone and Aripiprazole

Risperidone and aripiprazole are two medications that have been FDA-approved for treating irritability associated with ASD in children within certain age ranges. These medications fall under the category of atypical antipsychotics and can help reduce aggressive behavior in autistic children. Risperidone, in particular, is one of the medicines for autistic children who display aggression. 

Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

SSRIs are a class of medications that may be prescribed to reduce anxiety and obsessive behaviors in individuals with autism. While more research is needed to validate their effectiveness specifically for autism-related symptoms, SSRIs have shown benefits in managing anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) in the general population.

Stimulants like Ritalin and Concerta

Stimulant medications like Ritalin and Concerta are commonly prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These medications work by helping individuals concentrate for longer periods and think before acting. However, it’s important to note that stimulant medications may have side effects, including a decrease in appetite. This can lead to inadequate weight gain or weight loss.

Specialized Medications

In addition to the FDA-approved and commonly prescribed medications for autism, there are specialized medications that are sometimes used to address specific symptoms or challenges faced by individuals with autism. Two such specialized medications are anti-epileptic medicines and melatonin for sleep.

Anti-epileptic Medicines

For some individuals with autism, seizures may be a part of their condition. In these cases, anti-epileptic medicines are often prescribed to help manage and control seizures. The choice of the best anti-epileptic drug depends on the type of seizures the individual experiences and any accompanying difficulties or medications they may be taking.

Melatonin for Sleep

Sleep difficulties are common among individuals with autism, and melatonin, a hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle, can be beneficial in addressing these issues. Melatonin supplements are often used to help autistic individuals with trouble falling asleep or maintaining a regular sleep pattern.

Considerations for Medication Use

When considering medication as part of the treatment plan for individuals with autism, there are important factors to keep in mind. These considerations include the trial basis and dosage adjustments, as well as the collaboration with healthcare providers.

Trial Basis and Dosage Adjustments

Medication for autism is typically prescribed on a trial basis to assess its effectiveness in managing specific behaviors associated with ASD. It’s important to understand that finding the right medication and dosage may take time. Some medications may initially worsen symptoms or take a few weeks to show positive results.

During the trial period, close monitoring of the individual’s response to the medication is crucial. Caregivers and healthcare providers should observe any changes in behavior, side effects, or improvements. This information helps in making informed decisions about adjusting the dosage or considering alternative medications.

Dosage adjustments may be necessary to achieve the desired therapeutic effects while minimizing side effects. It’s important to follow the prescribed dosage and consult with the healthcare provider before making any changes. Abruptly stopping medication or altering the dosage without medical guidance can have adverse effects.

Collaborating with Healthcare Providers

Collaboration with healthcare providers is essential when it comes to medication use for individuals with autism. The healthcare provider, typically a psychiatrist or a pediatrician with expertise in autism, will evaluate the individual’s symptoms, medical history, and overall health to determine the appropriate medication options.

Caregivers should share any concerns, observations, or changes in the individual’s behavior or response to the medication. This collaboration allows the healthcare provider to make informed decisions about adjusting the treatment plan, exploring alternative options, or providing additional support.

It’s important to remember that medications are just one component of a comprehensive treatment approach for autism. Behavioral therapies are often recommended in conjunction with medication to address specific behaviors associated with ASD. The combination of medication and therapy has been shown to be more effective than medication alone.

Potential Side Effects

When considering the use of medication for individuals with autism, it’s important to be aware of the potential side effects that may arise. Medications can provide significant benefits, but it’s crucial to understand the associated risks and take appropriate monitoring and safety measures.

Risks of Medication Use

It’s essential to recognize that all medications carry risks, including serious ones when not used properly. Families should collaborate closely with healthcare providers to ensure the safe use of any medication for individuals with autism. It’s also important to weigh the benefits against the risks before making a decision.

For example, SSRIs, commonly prescribed for individuals with autism, can have side effects such as sexual dysfunction and a possible link to suicidal thoughts. Therefore, close monitoring of the individual’s behavior, emotions, and moods is necessary when taking these medications.

Stimulants like Ritalin and Concerta, often prescribed for individuals with ADHD that may coexist with autism, have the main side effect of lower appetite, which might lead to inadequate weight gain or weight loss. It’s crucial to monitor the individual’s weight and ensure they receive proper nutrition while taking these medications.

Monitoring and Safety Measures

To ensure the well-being of individuals with autism who are taking medication, monitoring and safety measures are crucial. Here are some important considerations:

  • Regular communication with the healthcare provider: Keep the healthcare provider informed about any observed side effects or changes in behavior. This allows for timely adjustments to the medication regimen if needed.
  • Ongoing assessment: Regularly monitor the individual’s behavior, emotions, and physical health. This will help detect any potential side effects early on and allow for appropriate intervention.
  • Open communication with the individual: Encourage open dialogue with the individual about how they are feeling and any changes they may be experiencing. This can provide valuable insights into their response to the medication.
  • Adherence to dosage instructions: Strictly follow the prescribed dosage instructions and avoid making any changes without consulting the healthcare provider. Proper dosage is important to ensure the medication’s effectiveness and minimize the risk of side effects.
  • Documentation of side effects: Keep a record of any observed side effects, including their frequency and severity. This information can be helpful during discussions with the healthcare provider and aid in determining the most suitable course of action.

Remember, medication should always be part of a comprehensive treatment plan for individuals with autism. Other interventions, such as ABA therapy, may also be recommended to address specific needs and maximize overall progress. By working closely with healthcare providers, the potential benefits of medication can be optimized while minimizing any potential risks.


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