Drug May Help Kids With Autism
Study Shows Risperdal Cuts Aggressive Behavior; Long-Term
Effects Not Known
By Miranda Hitti
July 01, 2005
The antipsychotic drug Risperdal may cut aggressive behavior
in children with autism.
That effect was reported
in The American Journal of Psychiatry. Researchers including
James McCracken, MD, of the University of California at
Los Angeles (UCLA), studied Risperdal and autism.
However, Risperdal doesn't cure autism,
and it may not be right for all autistic children. Only
those with severe tantrums and aggressive or self-hurtful
behaviors were studied. In the new study, improvements
in behavior were maintained for over four months in more
than 80% of those taking Risperdal (about 52 children).
Risperdal is an antipsychotic used to treat
schizophrenia in adults. Antipsychotic drugs do not cure
schizophrenia; they reduce psychotic symptoms suffered
by these patients.
The drug showed "very good tolerability,"
but its long-term effects aren't known, say McCracken
Autism is part of a spectrum of developmental
disabilities caused by brain abnormalities, says the CDC.
People with autism spectrum disorders tend
to have problems with social and communication skills.
They may engage in repetitive behaviors. Some experience
tantrums or aggression. These behaviors can be severe
enough to limit educational and developmental progress,
write the researchers.
Between two and six out of a thousand people
have an autism spectrum disorder, says the CDC.
"Our findings support adding [Risperdal]
to the small arsenal of intermediate-term medication options
for the tens of thousands of children with autism who
display aggressive and destructive behaviors," says
McCracken in a news release.
He says the response to Risperdal "ranks
among the most positive ever observed in children with
autism for a drug treatment."
However, more studies are needed, say the
Tracking Risperdal's Impact
The study included 101 children with autism.
They were 5 to 17 years old. Their autism was accompanied
by severe tantrums, aggression, and/or self-injurious
They were assigned to take Risperdal or
a placebo for eight weeks. A total of 63 children who
responded well agreed to continue for four more months.
Irritability scores dropped 59%, on average,
with Risperdal. About 83% were rated "much"
or "very much" improved throughout the study,
say the researchers.
They also tracked 38 children as they were
weaned off the drug. Gradually, Risperdal was substituted
for a placebo. When that happened, symptoms often returned.
Side effects -- especially mild to moderate
increased appetite, tiredness, and drowsiness -- were
"common," say the researchers.
Weight gain was also reported. Kids taking
Risperdal gained about 11 pounds during the six-month
That's more than what would be expected
for normal development, say the researchers.
An earlier study on Risperdal and autism
appeared in The New England Journal of Medicine's Aug.
1, 2002, edition.
That study only lasted eight weeks. It included
101 autistic children. They were given Risperdal or a
Negative behaviors were "much"
or "very much" improved in 69% of the Risperdal
group, compared with 12% of those taking the placebo.
At the time, researcher Lawrence Scahill,
PhD, MSN, told WebMD that Risperdal "does not appear
to have much impact on the core symptoms of autism."
"What we want to avoid is the mistaken
notion that it is appropriate for all children with autism
and that pushing the doses will make all of their problems
go away," said Scahill.
Scahill is an associate professor of nursing
and child psychiatry at Yale University School of Nursing
and Child Study Center.
SOURCES: Aman, M. The American
Journal of Psychiatry, July 2005; vol 162: pp 1361-1369.
CDC: "Autism Information Center." WebMD Medical
News: "Schizophrenia Drug Helps Autistic Kids."
News release, UCLA.
Original source: http://www.webmd.com