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Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Brain disorder that begins in early childhood and persists throughout adulthood; affects three crucial areas of development: communication, social interaction, and creative or imaginative play.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders)

About ASD

ASD includes a range of behavioral symptoms.

The two core features of ASD are:

  • Difficulty with social interactions and communication.
  • Repetitive behaviors, interests, and activities.

How common is ASD?

About one in every 68 children in the United States has ASD. It is about four times more common in boys than girls. It can affect children of all races and social classes wherever they live. Researchers are not sure what causes ASD.

No two children with ASD are alike

ASD is called a "wide-spectrum disorder" because the symptoms are different for each child. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and can change as the child grows. No two children with ASD are alike. This makes understanding ASD and finding the best therapies difficult... Read more about Autism Spectrum Disorder

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

Risperidone for autism spectrum disorder

Risperidone is an antipsychotic medication that has been used for symptom relief and behavioural improvement in autism. This review encompasses three randomised controlled trials and concludes that risperidone may be beneficial for various aspects of autism including irritability, repetition and hyperactivity. However, all studies were relatively small and used different ways to assess effectiveness, making comparisons difficult. In addition, side effects were identified, notably weight gain. Further studies are therefore necessary to determine the long term benefits, if any, compared with the potential risks.

Vitamin B6 and magnesium in combination for children with autism spectrum disorder

Studies investigating the effect of vitamin B6 in improving the behaviour of children with autism spectrum disorder have been reported for over three decades. The purpose of this review was to summarize those studies and analyse the effectiveness of vitamin B6 as an intervention. Only three studies met the inclusion criteria of this review and of these only one study reported adequate data for analysis. Results were inconclusive and sample sizes were small. Therefore the use of vitamin B6 for improving the behaviour of individuals with autism cannot currently be supported. Further research using larger, well‐designed trials is needed.

Tricyclic antidepressant medication for treating children and adolescents with an autism spectrum disorder

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are characterised by problems with social interaction and verbal and non‐verbal communication, as well as restricted and repetitive interests and behaviours. Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) are medications that alter the level of the neurotransmitter serotonin and have been used in the treatment of autistic symptoms, anxiety and obsessive‐compulsive type behaviours. We found three trials that studied two different TCAs ‐ clomipramine and tianeptine. One of the clomipramine studies involved children and young adults; the other two studies enrolled only children. All three trials were small, with between 12 and 32 participants. There is only limited evidence to support the use of clomipramine or tianeptine in the treatment of individuals with ASD, and some evidence of side effects that would limit their usefulness. Clinicians considering the use of TCAs in ASD need to be aware of the limited and conflicting evidence of effect and the side effect profile of TCAs when discussing this treatment option with patients with ASD and their carers. More research is required before TCAs can be recommended for use in ASD.

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Summaries for consumers

Therapies for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Review of the Research for Parents and Caregivers

This guide describes research about the possible benefits and negative side effects of therapies for children who are 0 to 12 years old and have ASD. It was created to help you talk with your doctor, school administrator, social worker, or health insurance representative about programs and therapies.

Risperidone for autism spectrum disorder

Risperidone is an antipsychotic medication that has been used for symptom relief and behavioural improvement in autism. This review encompasses three randomised controlled trials and concludes that risperidone may be beneficial for various aspects of autism including irritability, repetition and hyperactivity. However, all studies were relatively small and used different ways to assess effectiveness, making comparisons difficult. In addition, side effects were identified, notably weight gain. Further studies are therefore necessary to determine the long term benefits, if any, compared with the potential risks.

Vitamin B6 and magnesium in combination for children with autism spectrum disorder

Studies investigating the effect of vitamin B6 in improving the behaviour of children with autism spectrum disorder have been reported for over three decades. The purpose of this review was to summarize those studies and analyse the effectiveness of vitamin B6 as an intervention. Only three studies met the inclusion criteria of this review and of these only one study reported adequate data for analysis. Results were inconclusive and sample sizes were small. Therefore the use of vitamin B6 for improving the behaviour of individuals with autism cannot currently be supported. Further research using larger, well‐designed trials is needed.

See all (13)

More about Autism Spectrum Disorder

Photo of a child

Also called: Autism, Autistic

See Also: Asperger Syndrome

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