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Schizophrenia drug may help quell disruptive behavior of autism

Linda Searing The Washington Post

The question: The medication generally used to treat children with the aggressive, disruptive behavior that often accompanies autism worries some parents because of the potential for neurological side effects. Might risperidone – a newer medication, used with few side effects by adults with schizophrenia – work for autistic children?

This study involved 63 youths, 5 to 17 years old and mostly boys, who had benefited from having taken risperidone for eight weeks. All participants took the drug for 16 weeks more. Overall, about 83 percent were described as much or very much improved in their behavior after the additional 16 weeks, 9 percent improved mildly and 8 percent recorded worse behavior. The participants then were randomly assigned to continue taking risperidone or have it withdrawn gradually and replaced with a placebo. Disruptive behavior returned quickly among those in the placebo group, and it returned in both groups once they completed the study.

Who may be affected by these findings? Autistic children who exhibit aggressive, disruptive behavior.

Caveats: Those taking risperidone gained an average of 11.2 pounds in six months, more than is typical for their ages. The authors speculated that more gradual tapering of the dose may have allowed the behavioral improvements made during treatment to be maintained longer. Longer-term use of the drug was not evaluated.

Find this study: July issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry; abstract available online at http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org.

Learn more about autism at www.autism-society.org and www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders.

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