Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a large and diverse group of neurodevelopmental disorders that can affect a person’s functioning in several different areas. These can include social interaction, communication, and behavior.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), approximately one out of every 68 children in the United States has an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. This makes it almost five times more common among boys than girls, although recent evidence suggests that this may be changing.
The symptoms of autism spectrum disorder can be classified into two separate categories: core symptoms and associated symptoms.
Core symptoms include social deficits and communication difficulties, such as problems with nonverbal cues and interactions or trouble transitioning from one activity to the next. For example, a child may be able to engage in a conversation but fail to ascertain when someone else is done speaking.
Associated symptoms include repetitive and restrictive patterns of behavior, such as compulsive eye contact or hand flapping; these behaviors are often referred to as “stimming.”
The specific diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, in accordance with the DSM-5, is defined by two categories: social communication deficits and restricted and repetitive behaviors.
Treatment plans usually involve therapy and medication to help manage the symptoms of autism spectrum disorder. Although there is no cure for autism, early treatment can help children with this condition make more progress than those left untreated.
Medication has two main uses: to address associated symptoms of autism such as hyperactivity or self-injurious behavior (SIB) or to address specific symptoms of autism-like social deficits.
Atypical antipsychotics are the most common medications used to treat associated symptoms of autism, such as aggression, agitation; they are also prescribed for behavioral problems like SIB.
Commonly prescribed atypical antipsychotics include risperidone, clozapine, and aripiprazole.
Of these drugs, risperidone (trade name: Risperdal) is the only one approved for the treatment of irritability in autistic children by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Children with autism spectrum disorder who take atypical antipsychotics may experience such side effects as weight gain, sleepiness or drowsiness, and increased saliva.
Medications used to target specific symptoms of autism spectrum disorder include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which can be used to address anxiety and depression; they affect serotonin levels in the brain and can reduce repetitive and self-injurious behaviors associated with autism.
Another type of antidepressant, selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SSNRIs), also known as serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), can help children who experience anxiety, depression, and irritability as a result of autism spectrum disorder.
Common types of SSNRIs include duloxetine (Cymbalta), venlafaxine (Effexor), and desvenlafaxine (Pristiq).
The FDA has not approved any medications for the treatment of autism spectrum disorder, although it has approved risperidone for irritability.
Some argue that autism spectrum disorder has become an umbrella term to justify prescribing pharmaceutical drugs, and others argue that there is a growing epidemic of the condition as a result of environmental factors.
This controversy exists because many children who receive an ASD diagnosis do not entirely fit the normal diagnostic criteria; they may only display some of the symptoms of autism, or they may meet most of the DSM-IV criteria but not all.
Groups like Autism Speaks advocate early intervention for children who are diagnosed with ASD, and treatment plans often begin with therapy to help children adapt before prescribing medication.
Some research suggests that behavioral intervention might be just as effective as medication in treating autism spectrum disorder; other studies show that children who receive treatment with medication and therapy use fewer resources (and thus, save money) than those left untreated.
Medication saved my life and thanks to my wonderful Psychiatrist we found that sweet spot where I am on the perfect dosage to function optimally.