Medications, Supplements, and Dietary Strategies for HFA and AS

"Obviously there's no 'cure' for autism, but are there any medications or supplements that parents have used that help treat some of the symptoms in their high-functioning autistic child?"

There are no medications that specifically treat High-Functioning Autism (HFA) or Aspergers (AS), but there are some medications, supplements, and dietary strategies that may improve certain associated symptoms (e.g., anxiety, depression, hyperactivity, etc.) that can occur in many kids on the autism spectrum.

Some examples include the following:

1. SSRIs: Drugs such as Luvox may be used to treat depression or to help control repetitive behaviors. Possible side effects include restlessness and agitation.

2. Risperdal: This medication may be prescribed for agitation and irritability. It may cause trouble sleeping, a runny nose and an increased appetite. This drug has also been associated with an increase in cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

3. Zyprexa: Olanzapine is sometimes prescribed to reduce repetitive behaviors. Possible side effects include increased appetite, drowsiness, weight gain, and increased blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

4. Revia: This medication, which is sometimes used to help alcoholics stop drinking, may help reduce some of the repetitive behaviors associated with HFA and AS. However, the use of low-dose naltrexone (doses as low as two to four mg a day) has been gaining favor recently. But, there's no good evidence that such low doses have any effect on the disorder.

5. Intuniv: This medication may be helpful for the problems of hyperactivity and inattention in kids on the autism spectrum. Side effects may include drowsiness, irritability, headache, constipation and bed-wetting.

6. Abilify: This drug may be effective for treating irritability related to the disorder. Side effects may include weight gain and an increase in blood sugar levels.

Because there are no definitive treatments for HFA or AS, some moms and dads may turn to complementary or alternative therapies. However, most of these treatments haven't been adequately studied. It's possible that by focusing on alternative treatments, you may miss out on behavior therapies that have more evidence to support their use.

Of greater concern, however, is that some treatments may not be safe. The FDA has warned about over-the-counter chelation medications. These drugs have been marketed as a therapy for autism and other conditions. Chelation is a therapy that removes heavy metals from the body, but there are no over-the-counter chelation therapies that are approved by the FDA. This type of therapy should only be done under the close supervision of medical professionals. According to the FDA, the risks of chelation include dehydration, kidney failure and even death.

Other examples of alternative therapies that have been used for HFA and AS include:

1. Avoidance diets: Some moms and dads have turned to gluten-free or casein-free diets to treat Aspergers. There's no clear evidence that these diets work, and anyone attempting such a diet for their youngster needs guidance from a registered dietitian to ensure the child's nutritional requirements are met.

2. Melatonin: Sleep problems are common in kids on the spectrum, and melatonin supplements may help regulate the youngster's sleep-wake cycle. The recommended dose is 3 mg, 30 minutes before bedtime. Possible side effects include excessive sleepiness, dizziness and headache.

3. Other dietary supplements: Numerous dietary supplements have been tried in children with HFA and AS. Those that may have some evidence to support their use include: Carnosine, Omega-3 fatty acids, Vitamin B-6, Magnesium, and Vitamin C (usually in combination with other vitamins).

4. Secretin: This gastrointestinal hormone has been tried as a potential treatment. Numerous studies have been conducted on secretin, and none found any evidence that it helps.

Other therapies that have been tried, but lack objective evidence to support their use include:
  • transcranial magnetic stimulation
  • massage and craniosacral massage
  • immune therapies
  • hyperbaric oxygen therapy
  • chiropractic manipulations
  • antifungal drugs
  • antibiotics

This is a serious issue and a difficult one for parents to deal with. It is almost impossible for any parent to know all of the potential risks associated with medications. Speak with your physician and your pharmacist about any medications your child may need to take. Keep asking questions until you feel that you are prepared. Your local pharmacist is a wealth of information about the medications he or she is dispensing and can be a valuable resource.

More resources for parents of children and teens with High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's:

==> How To Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums In Children With High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's

==> Parenting System that Significantly Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Aspergers and High-Functioning Autism

==> Launching Adult Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Guide for Parents Who Want to Promote Self-Reliance

==> Teaching Social Skills and Emotion Management to Children and Teens with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism

==> Parenting Children and Teens with High-Functioning Autism: Comprehensive Handbook

==> Unraveling The Mystery Behind Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism: Audio Book

==> Parenting System that Reduces Problematic Behavior in Children with Asperger's and High-Functioning Autism


•    Anonymous said... I have decided to start our 12 year old son on melatonin for getting off to sleep. I don't know how that will work yet. We use to give him daily "rescue remedy" herbal drops when he was feeling nervous which seemed to help a little.

•    Anonymous said... I take a low dose of antidepressants, and have since I was 15. It helps with the anxiety, especially socially

•    Anonymous said... It is hit or miss with what chemical reaction works for any individual and their body. I giver our household Omega 3 supplement pilss with olive oil, safflower oil, ++ recommended brand that helps all of us with focus. my Aspie uses Adderrall 20mg in the AM and then 5mg in the afternoon to get him through til bedtime. he says the pills help his brain to not overwhelm him and we visually see a difference in 30 minutes from the time he takes his pill on his body control and ability to respond to his own needs and others talking to him.

•    Anonymous said... Low dose anti-depressant, plus Atenelol to help with impulsivity.

•    Anonymous said... My daughter does not have the hyperactivity with her ADD...That would actually help. Most of those kinds of meds would make her worse...as they tent to treat the hyper part. Is there something that can make her focus without the drowsiness part?

•    Anonymous said... My daughter is 10 weeks into Lovan (anti depressant) I cannot tell you the difference it has made for not only our family but mostly for her. For the first time she is a happy 9 year old that enjoys life without the stress, anxiety, depression, anger, impulsiveness the list goes on!! It is only early days yet, but I wish we had considered this a year ago when it was first offered. She has high functioning autism/aspergers, and recently the pead thinks she is exhibiting ADHD tendencies. There are minor side affects such as a little tiredness which just makes it harder to do homework (care factor zero), a little loose bowel movements and weight loss. So far she has lost 2.5kgs which is fine as he felt she was slightly over the recommended weight anyway. Will just have to keep an eye on it for now. Everyone is different, but so far we have had a positive experience

•    Anonymous said... My son is 7 years old and he is on Risperidone, Zoloft at night and Ritalin. I NEVER wanted to medicate him, but after many consultations we were left with no choice. He is happy, and is a lot more focused.

•    Anonymous said... My son started on Prozac (generic) a year ago, after we resisted the idea of med for a long time. He still takes the starter dose, in liquid form. Takes it together with cran-grape juice to mute the taste. It made him drowsy the first few weeks, but now it's just a good thing to calm his panicky edge, so he is less reactive, hostile, defensive. His humor can shine through, he can calmly consider options, etc. Of course everyone's different. Oh, also has long half-life, so if forget a dose it's not a dramatic up/down.

•    Anonymous said... Risperdal or abilify and adderral. Huge difference in behaviors. I too refused to medicate until my son was 8 he is now 16. My decision changed his life monumentally (no pun intended lol). If you don't offer the medication, you are doing a grave disservice to them and your entire family.

•    Anonymous said... My son who has Aspergers has been taking Low Dose Naltrexone, as mentioned in this article for a year now. He started on 3mg and now is at 4.5mg 2x per day. Once in the morning and once at night before bed. It has helped with his mood, energy, and production and he hardly gets colds or other illnesses anymore. I am also taking it at 4.5mgs per day for Fibromyalgia and am pain free because of it.

•    Anonymous said... My 14 year old son's dr wants to try Abilify for aggression. I am afraid of some side effects. Anyone else tried this med and been met with alarming side effects such as stiffened muscles and twitches?

•    Anonymous said... my sons doctor referred to ability and reaper idol as "the big guns" and wanted to try an sari med first. She said that while it was more anxiety causing the aggression than depression, the med would treat both. Also, for our daughter, we got her off meds with a product called stress relief complex. It can be found at autism.myshaklee.com.

•    Anonymous said... I highly recommend Namenda. Research it.

•    Katina said... We got the results we wanted with Abilify, but my 13 year old daughter gained 50 pounds in 9 months. She's been off it for 4 months, and has lost 20 pounds so far.

•    Caren said... My son has Aspergers and general anxiety disorder. We avoided drugs until 3rd grade, when we put him n risperadal. Then I felt bad for not getting him on drugs earlier. Unfortunately for us, risperadal had a small sweet spot for our son, where too much caused more aggression, and after a growth spurt we couldn't find it again. We were on a merry go round of different drugs, so at one point I took him off of everything to see what he was like unmedicated. Unmedicated for us means daily meltdowns with physical aggression. So we slowly added medications back, attempting to max out the benefit of a drug before adding another or deciding to try something else. My son is 13 now, and takes depakote, abilify, and lexapro. They enable him to remain calm enough to think and use his "tools" to avoid a melt down. Depakote has been the difference between physical aggression that would make it impossible for him to stay in our home and a normal life. Luckily, we live in Chicago and have access to top medical facilities. The depakote and abilify have caused him to gain weight, so we watch his diet. He has blood tests every few months to monitor drug levels in his blood and insure everything is fine. We were anti medication when we started this journey, but the relief and happiness that my son feels now that he has enough self-control have convinced us it was the right treatment for him.

•    We have had no bad side effects, other than weight gain. I recommend trying meds, but doing it slowly and only one medicine at a time. If it doesn't work, then stop, but when it does work, life becomes so much easier.

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