Limited role of medicines in autism

A new article in the December edition of Australian Prescriber looks at some of the treatment strategies that might help children with autism spectrum disorder, and the additional conditions that people living with autism often have.

Author Dr Melanie Turner, Child and adolescent psychiatrist and Director of MyChild Psychiatry and Psychology in South Australia says the number of people with autism spectrum disorder is growing. This is partly due to the way the condition is diagnosed.

“Non-medicine treatments like talking therapy, occupational therapy, social skills groups, peer mentors, and support in education and employment are usually the first port of call for managing the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder,” said Dr Turner. “There is no medicine specifically for the treatment of autism.”

“But people who have autism frequently live with additional health conditions and symptoms like anxiety, depression, agitation, aggression, sleep disorders or ADHD. A medicine might be considered to help address these symptoms,” she said.

“When we consider a medicine as part of a treatment plan, we also need to consider the common adverse effects of this medicine, as well as potential interactions with other medicines that the person is already taking,” said Dr Turner.

“We will usually start with a small dose and increase gradually over time, and we will do ongoing monitoring to determine how the person is responding to that medicine.

“A concern for doctors looking after people with autism spectrum disorder is polypharmacy—the use of multiple medicines at once—because the more medicines a person is taking, the higher the risk of interactions. However, it may not always be possible to treat all the symptoms with just one medicine,” she said.

Read the article in Australian Prescriber.

     

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