Harvard Mental Health Letter

No "magic pill" for autism spectrum disorders

Surveys indicate that nearly half of children with autism spectrum disorders take some type of psychiatric medication — most often antidepressants, antipsychotics, or stimulants. Yet a federally funded study concluded that most of these drugs aren't effective at treating symptoms of autism spectrum disorders. Early intervention behavioral therapy, typically delivered at home or in school, forms the foundation of treatment for autism spectrum disorders. Unfortunately these therapies are labor- and time-intensive, producing modest improvements at best. Parents and clinicians, often desperate for additional options, have increasingly turned to medications to alleviate symptoms such as aggression, irritability, and repetitive behaviors, or to prevent children from injuring themselves. In an effort to provide clinicians and parents with better information to guide treatment decisions, the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality asked investigators at the Vanderbilt University Evidence-Based Practice Center to conduct a review of research on various autism spectrum disorder treatments for children 12 and younger.
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