Types of Autism Medications and Treatments

Medically Reviewed on 10/13/2022

What are autism medications?

Autism medications are prescribed to treat some of the behavioral symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). At present, there is no medication to cure autism spectrum disorder or relieve all of its symptoms. Behavioral therapies form a crucial pillar of treatment.
Autism is a complex developmental disorder that affects behavior and impairs social and communication skills. Autism is a spectrum of conditions with symptoms ranging from mild to severe.

Autism medications are prescribed to treat some of the behavioral symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). At present, there is no medication to cure autism spectrum disorder or relieve all of its symptoms.

Autism medications may be useful for managing certain behaviors associated with ASD such as:

What is the best medicine for autism?

The only medications approved by FDA for irritability associated with autism spectrum disorder are the two following second-generation antipsychotic class of drugs:

Other prescribed off-label medications for managing some specific symptoms associated with ASD include

  • selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI),
  • stimulants, and
  • alpha-2 adrenergic agonists.

What is autism?

Autism is a complex developmental disorder that affects behavior and impairs social and communication skills. Autism is a spectrum of conditions with symptoms ranging from mild to severe. High-functioning individuals with ASD can be gifted with exceptional skills, while people with severe forms of ASD may never be able to live independently.

Autistic disorder becomes evident in early childhood, though many children with ASD may appear normal in infancy. Boys are found to be four times more likely to have ASD. Some of the characteristics of children with autism spectrum disorder include:

  • Regression in development that initially seems normal
  • Not pointing at objects to show interest
  • Lack of reaction or excessive reaction such as screaming or rage, to sensory stimuli such as touch, bright lights, or certain sounds
  • Showing no interest in people and avoiding eye contact
  • Difficulty in social interactions
  • High pain threshold and lack of response to physical injury
  • Language and speech difficulties
  • Difficulty in expressing needs
  • Absence of “pretend” playing
  • Repetitive actions, such as rocking or pacing
  • Difficulty in adapting to changes in routines
  • Fixations on certain objects or activities
  • Short attention span

What are the different types of autism?

The latest classification of autism spectrum disorders includes the following conditions:

  • Asperger’s syndrome: The mildest condition in the autism spectrum featuring high functional and intellectual capabilities.
  • Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS): Children with PDD-NOS have more severe symptoms of autism than Asperger’s.
  • Autistic disorder: Children with the autistic disorder exhibit classic autism symptoms of an intense level.
  • Childhood disintegrative disorder: The rarest and most severe end of the autism spectrum. These children may also have seizures.


Autism is a developmental disability. See Answer

What is autism caused by?

The causes of autism spectrum disorders are not known. Imaging and other studies of the brains of autistic individuals have revealed structural abnormalities in many brain regions. Though there is no conclusive evidence, scientists consider that one or a combination of the following are possible risk factors for ASD:

  • Genetic factors: Though no specific gene has been identified to cause ASD, genetic abnormalities are thought to interfere with brain development. Some genetic disorders that can cause autism or symptoms similar to autism include:
  • Obstetric complications: Problems during pregnancy and delivery are a possible cause of ASD. Certain medical conditions or medications taken during pregnancy are also thought to be risk factors for ASD.
  • Infections: Many children with ASD born to women who contracted rubella during pregnancy suggest the possibility of disease as a risk factor.
  • Toxic exposure: Exposure to toxins, chemicals, and air pollution during pregnancy may affect fetal brain development, leading to ASD.
  • Parental age: Some studies indicate that children born to parents (one or both) over 35 may be at a higher risk for ASD.

Several population studies have demonstrated that there is no association between vaccinations and autism. It is recommended that parents adhere to the immunization schedule of children.

Studies have also disproved the earlier theory that ASD resulted from rejection by emotionally cold parents.

What is the most effective therapy for autism? 9 Therapies

An early and individualized program of treatment that incorporates a combination of therapies is the most effective way to manage autism. Each type of therapy addresses a specific need of an autistic child. The therapies helpful in managing autism spectrum disorders include:

Behavior and communication therapies 

Here are 9 different therapies including:

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Applied behavior analysis (ABA) is a widely used technique in schools and clinics for managing autism. ABA is used to discourage negative behaviors and help the child learn positive behaviors and improve a variety of skills. The different types of ABA include:

  • Discrete Trial Training (DTT): Use of lessons broken down into simple parts with rewards for positive responses.
  • Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention (EIBI): Individualized approach with a trained professional to reduce negative behaviors such as tantrums, aggression, and self-injury. EIBI is useful for children under 5 years of age.
  • Early Start Denver Model (ESDM): An approach that uses play and joint activities to improve social, language, and cognitive skills in children 12 to 48 months.
  • Pivotal Response Training (PRT): PRT is used to improve the motivation to learn, self-control, and communication with others.
  • Verbal Behavior Intervention (VBI): A program to teach speaking skills.

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)

This system is used to improve communication skills by teaching the child to use picture symbols in devices such as electronic tablets, to communicate.

Developmental, Individual Differences, Relationship-Based Approach

Known as “Floortime,” this approach involves getting on the floor and doing the activities the child likes. Floortime focuses on emotional development and the child’s response to sounds, sights, and smells.

Treatment and Education of Autistic and Related Communication-handicapped Children (TEACCH)

Use of visual cues such as picture cards to teach the child everyday skills like getting dressed.

Occupational therapy

Occupational therapy teaches skills such as bathing, eating, dressing, and relating to others, and helps the person to live as independently as possible.

Social skills training

Social skills training helps children improve their interaction with others and problem-solving.

Speech therapy

Speech therapy helps improve verbal communication skills, though, with some children, gestures, and pictures may work better.

Physical therapy

Exercise and a regular program of activity may have therapeutic benefits.

Family therapy

Living with a person with ASD can be stressful for a family. Counseling the parents and siblings may be beneficial to the family and the person with ASD.

Dietary therapy

Changes in diet or certain supplements, vitamins, and minerals are thought to have a beneficial effect on some children, though there is no evidence to support this theory. The doctor must be consulted before giving the child any alternate medication or supplements.

What are the types of autism medications?

There are no medications to treat the primary behavioral symptoms of autism, but some medications may help in the management of some specific symptoms of autism. All children do not respond to medications in the same way, and each child must be closely monitored for any adverse effects from medications, especially when the person begins any new treatments.

Many medications are undergoing clinical studies for use in relieving ASD symptoms. Some of the commonly prescribed types of medications for autism include:

  • Second generation antipsychotics
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants
  • Stimulants
  • Alpha-2 adrenergic agonists

How do autism medications work?

There are only two FDA-approved medications for autism spectrum disorder (see the second generation antipsychotics). All other autism medications are used off-label by doctors to treat some specific symptoms of autism, because of beneficial results observed in studies or clinical practice.

Second generation antipsychotics

Antipsychotics work on certain chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) in the brain, known as dopamine and serotonin, which regulate mood, emotions, and thinking. Following are the two second-generation antipsychotics approved by FDA to treat irritability in autistic children:

Other antipsychotic medications used off-label for serious behavior disorders in autism such as self-injury and aggression include:

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants

SSRI antidepressants are used for autistic children to relieve anxiety. SSRIs increase the level of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood. SSRIs prescribed for autism to manage aggression and repetitive compulsive behaviors include:


Stimulants increase the level of two hormones, dopamine, and norepinephrine, in the brain. Stimulants may be effective in treating hyperactivity and lack of attention in autistic children. An example of stimulants used for autism is:

Alpha-2 adrenergic agonists

Alpha-2 agonists inhibit the release of norepinephrine in the brain, which has a sedative effect and may be useful in managing hyperactivity, inattention, and aggression in ASD. Alpha-2 agonists used for autism include:

Warnings and precautions for autism medications

Warning: FDA warns that patients, particularly in the ages 18 to 24, who are prescribed antidepressants must be monitored for suicidal thoughts, especially during the first few weeks.

  • Please visit our medication section of each drug within its class for more detailed information.
  • If your prescription medication isn’t on this list, remember to look on MedicineNet.com drug information or discuss it with your healthcare provider and pharmacist.
  • It is important to discuss all the drugs you take with your doctor and understand their effects, possible side effects, and interaction with each other.
  • Never stop taking your medication and never change your dose or frequency without consulting with your doctor.

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Autism is a developmental disability. See Answer

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Medically Reviewed on 10/13/2022