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Treatment for behavioral disorders in children with autism

One of a newer class of anti-psychotic medications was successful and well tolerated for the treatment of serious behavioral disturbance associated with autistic disorder in children ages 5 to 17. The findings of the large, multi-site, eight-week, placebo-controlled clinical trial, which was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), are being published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"Although this study did not attempt to treat the core symptoms of autism, our findings suggest that risperidone can be useful in treating moderate to severe behavior problems that are associated with autism in children," said Lawrence Scahill, Ph.D., principal investigator at the Yale Child Study Center site.

Autism is a chronic condition that appears in early childhood and is characterized by core symptoms of impaired social relatedness, delayed language, and restricted patterns of behavior. It affects as many as 20 children per 10,000. Although the causes of autism are unknown for most cases, available evidence implicates abnormalities in brain development. Twin and family studies indicate a strong genetic contribution.

In addition to core symptoms, children with autism frequently exhibit serious behavior disturbances, such as self-injury, aggression, hyperactivity, and tantrums in response to routine environmental demands. For these disturbances, behavior therapy and medications are the two main forms of treatment.

In this multi-site study, researchers randomly assigned 101 children and adolescents, 82 boys and 19 girls, age 5 to 17, to receive either placebo or risperidone, one of a new class of anti-psychotics called atypical.

The study found risperidone to be significantly more effective than placebo in improving behavior. Using a stringent definition of improvement, 69% of the children randomly assigned to risperidone were much or very much improved at the end of the study, as compared with
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Contact: Rayford Kytle
NIMHpress@nih.gov
301-443-4536
NIH/National Institute of Mental Health
31-Jul-2002


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