56% of school-age kids with autism take psychiatric medicines
- Article by: RYAN FLINN
- Bloomberg News
- May 24, 2012 - 9:58 PM
More than half of U.S. school-age children with autism take mood-altering drugs, said a new report, as doctors increasingly target the broad range of psychiatric symptoms associated with the ailment.
The survey, the first of its kind by the National Institute of Mental Health, found that 56 percent of autistic children, age 6 to 17, were on one or more medications used to treat disorders such as anxiety, depression, psychosis or hyperactivity. Also known as autism spectrum disorder, the condition affects about one in 88 children in the United States, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and was considered a rare diagnosis before 1980.
"Part of what you're seeing in these numbers is the fact that autism is frequently accompanied by other disorders," said Joseph Horrigan, head of medical research for Autism Speaks, an advocacy group based in New York. "There has been a relative under-appreciation of psychiatric co-morbidity in individuals, especially younger individuals."
The range of medications could also reflect the "absence of clear practice guidelines for psychotropic medication use in children with ASD," the researchers wrote in the report. The study found 32 percent were prescribed stimulants, 26 percent anti-anxiety or mood- stabilizers and 20 percent anti-depressants. Others were taking sleep, anti-psychotic or anti-seizure medications.
Children with autism have impaired social, communication and behavioral development that is usually identified by age 3. The disorder is often accompanied by abnormal cognitive functioning and learning ability. As a result, nine of 10 children with autism spectrum disorder use one or more services to meet developmental needs, according to the report.
"This is very good that physicians are recognizing these additional problems that kids with autism can have," said Randi Hagerman, medical director of University of California, Davis's Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders Institute. Hagerman said these medicines can make other behavioral treatments more effective.
A 2010 survey by Autism Speaks showed 27 percent of children enrolled in their registry were on psychotropic medications.
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