Why Is This Case Important?

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Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is characterized by qualitative impairments in social interaction and communication and by repetitive behavior or restricted interests.

Behavioral interventions are often used to address these 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-occurring conditions that are prevalent in children with ASD:

  • Harmful or bothersome repetitive behaviors
  • Attention problems
  • Anxiety
  • Aggression/irritability
  • 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 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.


Navigating the Modules

  • Use the links at the lower left and right of each page to move forward and backward through the course.
  • Each section of the case is followed by a series of questions.
  • Some questions have multiple tabs; please be sure to click them all.
  • Be on the lookout for videos that show key content and materials you can download and use in practice.
  • Following completion of the entire module, you will be given a link directing you to the CDC Training and Continuing Education Online website to secure CE credit.
  • At any time during the module, you can use the “Course Information” links to find information about the course, navigating the module and continuing education credit. You will not exit the module by clicking on these links.

Key Learning Objectives

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  1. Evaluate the etiology of changes to behavior and functioning in children with ASD and describe strategies to analyze these changes
    • Identify specific causes that can increase maladaptive behavior
    • Describe the components of a functional behavioral analysis
    • Be familiar with rating scales that can be used to assess behavior change in children with ASD
  2. Develop knowledge regarding specific options to treat maladaptive behaviors in children with ASD
    • Understand the evidence-based indications for the initiation of pharmacotherapy in children with ASD
    • Become familiar with the classes of drugs used to treat children with ASD
    • Describe the most common complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies used to treat children with ASD
    • Learn strategies to engage families around the use of CAM

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