Autism Medications: Anxiety and DepressionSelective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the medications most often prescribed for symptoms of anxiety, depression, and/or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Only one of the SSRIs, fluoxetine, (Prozac®) has been approved by the FDA for both OCD and depression in children age 7 and older. Three that have been approved for OCD are:
- Fluvoxamine (Luvox®) -- age 8 and older
- Sertraline (Zoloft®) -- age 6 and older
- Clomipramine (Anafranil®) -- age 10 and older.
Autism treatment with these medications can be associated with decreased frequency of repetitive, ritualistic behavior and improvements in eye contact and social contacts.
The FDA is studying and analyzing data to better understand how to use the SSRIs safely, effectively, and at the lowest dose possible.
Treating Behavioral ProblemsAntipsychotic medications have been used to treat severe behavioral problems in people with autism. These medications work by reducing the activity in the brain of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Among the older, typical antipsychotics, such as haloperidol (Haldol®), thioridazine, fluphenazine, and chlorpromazine, haloperidol was found in more than one study to be more effective than a placebo in treating serious behavioral problems.
Haloperidol, while helpful for reducing symptoms of aggression, can also have adverse side effects, such as sedation, muscle stiffness, and abnormal movements.
Two atypical (newer) antipsychotics (Risperdal® and Abilify®) are approved for treating irritability associated with autism disorder in children. These medications can help improve symptoms such as aggression toward other people, deliberate self-harm, temper tantrums, and abruptly changing moods. Neither medication can cure autism, but both can help with some of the behavior problems associated with the condition.
Further long-term studies are needed to determine any long-term side effects. Other atypical antipsychotics that have been studied recently with encouraging results are olanzapine (Zyprexa®) and ziprasidone (Geodon®). Ziprasidone has not been associated with significant weight gain.