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Medications for Autism? Well, Sort of


Autism is a diverse neurodevelopmental condition characterized by differences in social communication, repetitive behaviors, and sensory sensitivities. You may have heard of medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat Autism. This is partially correct. There are no medications that treat the core traits of Autism. However, there are two categories of medications that Autistic people, parents, and others who support Autistic people should be aware of. Medications are in no way a requirement, but Autistic and otherwise neurodivergent brains may have different production and absorption of neurotransmitters and may benefit from store-bought when necessary. Only the individual and their care team--their healthcare providers--can make those choices. Before diving into those two medications. I want to remind you that Autistic people are more likely to have reactions to medications, including paradoxical responses, unusual side effects, high sensitivity or even no response at all. Any medication should be considered a trial.

First, Autistic people rarely have Autism alone. They may have any possible combination of cooccurring conditions that can be treated and improve quality of life and may reduce the symptoms of those conditions. Second, there are two medications approved by the FDA to treat a specific set of symptoms when related to Autism called "irritability." Clinically, irritability is more than just being annoyed. It's a set of symptoms that include aggression expressions and outbursts, self-harm, and low tolerance for frustration. These can be very unpleasant and disruptive for the Autistic person and those around them. Most often, Autistics feel they don't have a lot of control over these feelings. While these FDA-approved drugs are not the only option, they may be the best option for some people.

Below, we explore the only two FDA-approved medications approved to treat irritability associated with Autism. They also treat other conditions, including those with psychosis.

  1. Risperidone (Brand: Risperdal):

  • Generic Name: Risperidone

  • Duration of Use: Approved by the FDA for treating irritability associated with autism in children and adolescents since 2006. It was first approved in the US in 1993.

  • Common Side Effects:

  • Weight gain

  • Drowsiness

  • Increased appetite

  • Fatigue

  • Dizziness

  1. Aripiprazole (Brand: Abilify):

  • Generic Name: Aripiprazole

  • Duration of Use: Approved by the FDA for the treatment of irritability associated with autism in children and adolescents since 2009 and first used in 2002.

  • Common Side Effects:

  • Weight gain

  • Drowsiness

  • Restlessness

  • Dizziness

  • Headache

Both of these medications are in a class called atypical antipsychotics. Unlike traditional antipsychotics, atypical antipsychotics have a lower risk of causing movement disorders known as extrapyramidal symptoms. They are sometimes called second-generation antipsychotics. They work by modulating the activity of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, including dopamine and serotonin.

In conclusion, medications can play a role in managing certain symptoms of Autism, but they are just one option in the list of approaches to managing difficult symptoms of any condition. When intervention is needed, working closely with healthcare providers and exploring various therapeutic options, Autistic people and their families can develop strategies to improve quality of life and well-being. Disclaimer:

It's essential to consult with a qualified healthcare provider before starting or discontinuing any medication regimen. The information provided in this blog post is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice. Each Autistic person may have unique needs and considerations, and treatment decisions should be made in consultation with a healthcare professional.

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