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Antipsychotic/Neuroleptic Medication Use for Autism

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Last Updated: July 21, 2003

General Information on Neuroleptics, Also Known As Antipsychotics
Neuroleptic medications, also known as antipsychotics, are used to treat a wide variety of serious mental illnesses. Most of the antipsychotic medications affect dopamine production or absorption, but some also act on serotonin or other transmitters.

There are two groups of antipsychotics:

*Conventional antipsychotics
*Atypical antipsychotics

Conventional antipsychotics were developed in the 1950s and 1960s. These medications, though considered a breakthrough for mental illness, had side-effects that would later be eliminated or reduced with the creation of atypical antipsychotics.

Atypical Neuroleptics, Also Known As Atypical Antipsychotics

Aytpical Antipsychotics include:

*Risperdal (risperidone)
*Seroquel (quetiapine)
*Zyprexa (olanzapine)
*Zeldox (ziprasidone)
*Clozaril (clozapine)

Aytpical Antipsychotic medications have come around more recently and have been used to help mental conditions such as:

*self-injurious behavior
*painful ticcing

These newer antipsychotics, the atypicals, have fewer side effects than the original conventional antipsychotic medications. Side effects to be aware of when taking any antipsychotic medication include:

*agranulocytosis (a dramatic drop in white blood cell count)

*neuroleptic malignant syndrome (neurological disorder most often caused by an adverse reaction to neuroleptic or antipsychotic drugs)

*tardive dyskinesia (dysfunctional, involuntary movements including facial tics, grimacing, eye blinking, lip smacking, tongue thrusting, moving one's head back or to the side, foot tapping, ankle movements, shuffled gait, and head nodding)

*withdawel dyskinesia (temporary episodes with symptons similar to Tardive Dyskinedia, which occur when the medication is stopped)

*weight gain, though not nearly as severe a side-effect as those mentioned above, has also been observed with the use of antipsychotic medications

Of all the atypical neuroleptics, Risperdal and Zyprexa are the two most commonly prescribed for use with pervasive development disorders. Both are similar in that they target dopamine and serotonin receptors, which helps to control behavioral problems seen in some children with autism. Such behavioral problems include:


Current findings suggest that the use of anti-psychotic medications was successful and well tolerated for the treatment of serious behavioral disturbances in autistic children. In clinical trials, autistic children showed improved behavior on risperdal as opposed to placebo and experienced minimal neurological side-effects. At this time, the main side-effect associated with risperdal for aggression in autism has been substantial weight gain (an average of about a six-pound increase in the 8-week period).

Medication Home Pages

Seroquel Home Page

Zyprexa Home Page
Zyprexa's Orally Disintegrating Tablets Approved by the FDA on July 10, 2003

Risperdal Home Page

Use of Atypical Neuroleptics For Autism: Articles

ABSTRACT : Effects of intramuscular olanzapine vs. haloperidol and placebo on QTc intervals in acutely agitated patients, from Psychiatry Res. 2003 Jul 15;119(1-2):113-23

ABSTRACT : Delayed recovery associated with persistent serum concentrations after clozapine overdose, from J Emerg Med. 2003 Jul;25(1):61-6

ABSTRACT: Pharmacokinetic comparison of fast-disintegrating and conventional tablet formulations of risperidone in healthy volunteers, from Clin Ther. 2003 Jun;25(6):1687-99

ABSTRACT: What is an Adequate Trial with Clozapine? : Therapeutic Drug Monitoring and Time to Response in Treatment-Refractory Schizophrenia

REVIEW: Further Study Needed on Cognitive Effects of New Antiepileptic Drugs

NIMH Study Finds Anti-Psychotic Medication Useful in Treating Serious Behavioral Problems among Children with Autism

ABSTRACT: Risperidone in children with autism and serious behavioral problems, from N Engl J Med. 2002 Aug 1;347(5):314-21

Risperidone in Children with Autism and Serious Behavioral Problems, from The New England Journal of Medicine August 1, 2002

ABSTRACT: Research Units on Pediatric Psychopharmacology (RUPP) Autism Network. Background and rationale for an initial controlled study of risperidone, from Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2000 Jan;9(1):201-24

Risperidone in Children with Autism and Serious Behavioral Problems

Antipsychotic Use and Autism, from The National Institute of Mental Health

Risperdal and Aggression in Autism, from

New Drug [Risperdal]Seems to Help Child Autism, from MedTech News

Advice on the use of Prozac and other SSRI antidepressant drugs in Autism/PDD [adding Rispedal to help control aggression while starting SSRI treatment]

New Class of Antipsychotic Drug Helps Severe Autism

Atypical Antipsychotic Use in Treating Adolescents and Young Adults With Developmental Disabilities, from The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry

Table III - "Atypical" Neuroleptics in Pervasive Developmental Disorders

Use of Atypical Neuroleptics: General Articles

ABSTRACT: Chlorpromazine equivalent doses for the newer atypical antipsychotics, from J Clin Psychiatry. 2003 Jun;64(6):663-7

ABSTRACT: Conventional Antipsychotic Prescription in Unipolar Depression, II: Withdrawing Conventional Antipsychotics in Unipolar, Nonpsychotic Patients, from J Clin Psychiatry. 2003 Jun;64(6):668-672

ABSTRACT: Diabetes Mellitus Type II - Induced by "Atypical" Neuroleptics?, from Fortschr Neurol Psychiatr. 2003 Jun;71(6):312-22

Risperdal Side Effects

ABSTRACT: Clinical experience with the long-acting injectable formulation of the atypical antipsychotic, risperidone, from Curr Med Res Opin. 2003;19(4):298-305

ABSTRACT: The implications of weight changes with antipsychotic treatment, from J Clin Psychopharmacol. 2003 Jun;23(3 Suppl):S21-6

Side Effects with the Use of Antipsychotic Medications

"Atypical" or "Safer" Antipsychotics (and why they're not so safe)

Tardive Dyskinesia, Written by Stephen M. Edelson

NINDS Tardive Dyskinesia Information Page

NINDS Neuroleptic Malignant Syndrome Information Page


ABSTRACT: Weight gain and antipsychotic medication: differences between antipsychotic-free and treatment periods, from J Clin Psychiatry. 2001 Sep;62(9):694-700

Antipsychotic Metabolic Effects: Weight Gain, Diabetes Mellitus, and Lipid Abnormalities, from The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry


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Basic Information
For Those New to the Diagnosis of Autism: The First Things to Do and the Initial Visit to the Neurologist
What Is Autism, PDD, and Asperger's Syndrome?
Neurobiology: Neurotransmitters, Genetics, and Biomarkers

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Therapies and Treatments
Sensory Integration
Applied Behavioral Analysis
Auditory Integration Training
Diet and Nutrition
Vision Therapy and Autism

Medication Use and Autism
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) as a Treatment for Autism
A Parent's Decision to Use an SSRI for her Young Autistic Son
Sleep Problems with Autism and Other Related Conditions
Risperdal and Other Atypical Neuroleptics as a Treatment for Autism

Speech and Communication
Sign Language
PECS and Other Picture Communication Systems

The Speech and Communication section is still Under Construction. Please feel free to browse the section, but keep checking back, as I will be adding new Speech/Communication therapies in the upcoming weeks, including:

*Verbal Behavior
*Sensory Integration Therapy (how it affects speech)
*Oral Motor Exercise
*Videos, Activites, and Books that Encourage Speech

Misc. Info
Conferences, Workshops, Events, and Summer Camps
A Mother's Reflections on Life with an Autistic Child
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NOTE: The information contained on the pages of TASK are for informational purposes only. TASK does not endorse any particular therapy, organization, or professional, but is, rather, informing site visitors of the existence of such therapies, organizations, and professionals.

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Lori at TASK