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Int Rev Neurobiol. 2006;72:267-84.

Blueprints for the assessment, treatment, and future study of catatonia in autism spectrum disorders.

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Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, University of Mississippi Medical Center Jackson, Mississippi 39216, USA.


The blueprints for the assessment, treatment, and future study of catatonia in autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), which are submitted in this chapter aim to increase early recognition and treatment of catatonia in ASDs, show the urgency of controlled treatment trials, and increase collaborative and interdisciplinary research into the co-occurrence of these two enigmatic disorders. Catatonia should be assessed in any patient with ASDs when there is an obvious and marked deterioration in movement, pattern of activities, self-care, and practical skills, compared with previous levels, through a comprehensive diagnostic evaluation of medical and psychiatric symptoms. A formal diagnosis should be ascertained using ASD specific criteria for catatonia that takes into account baseline symptoms like muteness, echophenomena, stereotypy, negativism, or other psychomotor abnormalities. Any underlying medical and neurological conditions should be treated, and culprit medications or other substances that may cause catatonia should be eliminated. Separate treatment blueprints are presented for mild, moderate, and severe catatonia, featuring combinations of a psychological approach developed by Shah and Wing and medical treatments that have shown efficacy in catatonia: lorazepam challenge, lorazepam trial, lorazepam continuation, and bilateral electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). These treatment modalities in themselves are well established. Side effects and complications are known and manageable. Legal, ethical, and practice guidelines governing all treatment aspects should be followed. The treatment blueprints should be viewed as best estimates pending future controlled studies. The blueprint for the future study of catatonia in ASDs describes promising clinical and preclinical research avenues. Longitudinal studies need to assess the possible effect of early recognition and adequate treatment of catatonia in ASDs in order to avoid the impairment associated with chronicity. Effects of current and new anticatatonic treatments should be examined in experimental models of autism and catatonia. Finally, the role of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) dysfunction in autism, catatonia, and abnormal stress responses in these disorders should be further assessed.

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