Meds for Autism Not Well Understood: Study

Guidelines needed for use of psychiatric drugs in affected teens, researcher says

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THURSDAY, Feb. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Children with autism may benefit from medications to treat children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other related disorders, but clearer guidelines are needed, a new study shows.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 1,000 U.S. teens enrolled in special education programs, to assess the use of psychiatric medications in those with autism, ADHD and both conditions.

Patients with both autism and ADHD had the highest rates of medicine use (about 58 percent), followed by those with ADHD only (around 49 percent) and those with autism only (about 34 percent), according to study author Paul Shattuck, an assistant professor at Washington University in St. Louis, and colleagues.

Black teenagers with autism only or with autism and ADHD were less likely to receive medications than whites.

"Observations from the present study reinforce the complexity of pharmacologic treatment of challenging behavior in kids with [autism spectrum disorders] and ADHD," Shattuck said in a university news release. "There needs to be a clearer guide for treating kids with both an [autism spectrum disorder] and ADHD."

He noted that drug treatment for autism reflects a trial-and-error approach based on associated symptoms, and there is a poor understanding of overall medication use for children with autism.

"Also striking are the high rates of antipsychotic, antidepressant/anti-anxiety and stimulant medication use in these youths," Shattuck said. "Additional studies examining the treatment of core and associated [autism spectrum disorder] symptoms are needed to guide the treatment of these kids."

It is estimated that one in 110 people have autism, with the majority being boys. Signs of autism include problems with communication and social interactions.

The study appears in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about autism.

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