Autism and Medication Part 3 – Antipsychotic Drugs

pillsAntipsychotics are a category of drug generally used to treat disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. There are different types of antipsychotics, but most types work by binding to and blocking the D2 or dopamine receptor in the brain.

Common antipsychotic medications include clozapine (Clozaril), risperidone (Risperdal), olanzapine (Zyprexa), quetiapine (Seroquel), and ziprasidone (Geodon).

Side effects can include drowsiness, dizziness, blurred vision, rapid heartbeat, sensitivity to the sun, skin rashes, weight gain, rigidity, persistent muscle spasms, tremors, or restlessness. Recently, Risperdal has also been linked to gynecomastia, a condition where males develop breasts.

Antipsychotics such as Risperdal are often used to treat aggression and self-injurious behaviors in children with autism. A 2005 study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry found that Risperdal was effective in treating aggression. The study included 101 children with autism between the ages of 5 to 17 with a history of severe tantrums, aggression, and/or self-injurious behaviors. Each group received Risperdal or a placebo for eight weeks.

The children in the Risperdal group showed an 83% rating of “much” or “very much” improvement in symptoms, and irritability scored dropped 59% on average. The study went on track 38 children as they were weaned off the drug, and found that symptoms often returned.

Researcher James McCracken, M.D, of the University of California at Los Angeles, says,

“Our findings support adding [Risperdal] to the small arsenal of intermediate-term medication options for the tens of thousands of children with autism who display aggressive and destructive behaviors.”

Parents who have tried Risperdal share different perspectives on the drug’s effectiveness. Teresa, a mother on Popsugar Circle of Moms message board, shares,

“It [Risperdal] has worked wonders for my 7 year-old. My child started Risperidone when he was 6-1/2. He calmed down a lot, sleeps better, and his aggression has come down as well.”

Another parent, Bec, says,

“I believe it has done wonders for my child, and his teachers believe so also. He is a completely different child. He’s not as aggressive anymore, and concentrates more. Only thing I don’t like about it, is one of the side effects, wanting to eat more and gaining the extra weight.”

Another mom, Kelly, says,

“First and foremost, try NOT to keep him on Risperidone!!! This class of meds, there are others like it, target certain neuro areas. Down the road, he may develop facial tics and other physically uncontrollable and IRREVERSIBLE side effects.”

Sondra Williams, an adult with autism, wrote this about her experience with Risperdal,

“. . . it was one of the worst drugs ever. . . I gained much weight, almost 70 pounds, wet the bed every night . .. I also had no monthly and began lactating as if nursing a baby.”

The decision to medicate should never be entered into lightly. For families raising children who exhibit significant aggressive or self-injurious behaviors, this type of medication can be life-changing. It is important to be aware of the possible side-effects, and to monitor your child’s reactions to any changes in medication or dosage.

Part 4 –  Anticonvulsants continues on Monday.


One Response

  1. John February 22, 2020