Why Is This Case Important?
Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are characterized by qualitative impairments in social interaction and communication and by repetitive behavior or restricted interests (DSM-IV-TR).
Behavioral interventions are often used to address the deficits in these three core domains, but there are no treatments—pharmacological or behavioral—proven to “cure” autism. For more information on behavioral interventions, see the Early Intervention and Education module.
Psychopharmacology has been shown, however, to help with some of the following maladaptive behaviors and psychiatric co-occuring conditions that are prevalent in children with ASDs:
- Harmful or bothersome repetitive behaviors
- Attention problems
- Self-injurious behavior
- Sleep difficulties
Many of the medications are used off-label because FDA-approved uses are limited. A primary care provider may encounter a child with an ASD on one or more of these medications in the course of practice. It is important to be aware of side-effect profiles, contraindications, and health monitoring in children on these medications.
While side effects should be monitored by the prescriber, the primary care provider also needs to make sure these are monitored, be aware of the possible drug interactions with other medications prescribed, and know the side effects so they can be considered in the differential diagnosis of symptoms brought to the primary care office for treatment.