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The Informed Parent

Risperdal and Autism

by Peter W. Welty, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Jun. 18, 2007

Recent research has been approving the medication Risperdal for the treatment of behaviors associated with autism. This study was published in the August 2002 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

Autism is a pervasive development disorder. It is a chronic condition, characterized by a marked impairment in the ability to relate to others socially, delayed language, and restricted patterns of behavior. Autism affects one in 250 children.

In addition to the above core characteristics, autistic children frequently display serious behavior disturbances. These may present as self-injurious behaviors, aggression, and tantrums, often in response to routine environmental stressors. Behavior modification has been effective in some instances. However, medications have often been used to manage severe behaviors so that autistic children with such disturbances may function optimally.

To date, haloperidol has been shown to be effective in controlling such severe behaviors. Many doctors are concerned about short and long-term side effects. A large, multi-site study was conducted by the Research Units on Pediatric Psychopharmacology Autism Network. One hundred one children were randomly assigned to receive Risperdal or a placebo, or sugar pill.

Treatment with Risperdal for eight weeks resulted in a 56.9 percent reduction in autistic irritability, aggression, and behavioral outbursts.

It is postulated that Risperdal may be effective by its effects on the dopamine receptor as well as its actions on the seratonin receptor. This action on the seratonin receptor may also confer protection against extrapyramidal side effects, occasionally present in typical antipsychotic's use.

The use of Risperdal is associated with weight gain. There is also a need to monitor the risk of development of diabetes. Nevertheless, this new indication for Risperdal for the treatment of serious behavioral disturbances associated with autism marks an exciting development of another effective treatment for this complex disorder. See your pediatrician for further information.

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