Harvard Mental Health Letter

No "magic pill" for autism spectrum disorders

Although medication prescriptions are common, there is little evidence they do any good.

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.

Although estimates vary, about one in 110 U.S. children has an autism spectrum disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV) describes five: autistic disorder, Asperger's disorder, Rett's disorder, childhood disintegrative disorder, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified. While autism spectrum disorders differ in some ways, they all cause impairment in the ability to communicate, socialize, and build relationships. Individuals with these disorders may also engage in ritualistic or repetitive behaviors like constantly tapping their fingers or humming.

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