Use of medicines to treat autism

Children with autism and intellectual disability are being prescribed medication that has been formulated to treat psychotic conditions like schizophrenia. See link below to an article published in The Conversation below.

Many careers ago, I worked in the pharmaceutical industry and discovered it’s not uncommon for medicines to be prescribed to treat conditions other than the they one were initially developed for. For example, it was discovered that certain drugs designed to treat heart and vascular conditions, had the interesting side effect of increasing libido. Enter stage right the little blue diamond tablet and the rest, as they say, is history!

When drugs come to market, they have usually been years in research and development followed by extensive testing. Once the medicine is deemed safe, it is published in the British National Formulary (BNF) which catalogues all drug formulations, indications (uses) and recommended dosages. The BNF a great tool for prescribing professionals and can be seen as a best practice guide.

boy child clouds kid
Photo by Porapak Apichodilok on

So, in theory, prescribing ‘off-label’ is not a bad thing per se, but my cautionary note would be for parents to ask the following four questions, if they are not given this information in a consultation:

  1. What class of medication your child is being given (e.g. antidepressant, antipsychotic, stimulant?)
  2. How does it work?
  3. How will be help my child? Or what symptom is it being prescribed for?
  4. What sort of side effects might there be?

I don’t think being rigidly anti-medication for these complex brain conditions or mental health illnesses is necessarily helpful. But as parents, we owe it to our children to be well-informed and clear about the treatment regime and its possible impact. It is also vital to share information about how your child might react in any given circumstance, particularly if there is anxiety, oppositional behaviour or mutism in the mix. A skilled and compassionate physician will surely listen to your concerns and provide any reassurances you may need.

[There are some instances where autistic children are given medication without direct parental consent, if the child is in the care of the local authority for example or in a specialist school. This can be challenging and where possible, it’s a good idea to draw up a contract concerning ongoing and emergency medication use, which both parties agree to in writing.]


© Suzy Rowland



1 thought on “Use of medicines to treat autism

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: