There are no medications specifically approved for Asperger's syndrome, but various drugs can be used to help manage certain symptoms and behaviors. Let's look at depression, hyperactivity, aggression and irritability to review the most helpful medications.
Antidepressants for Secondary Depression in Asperger's
While depression is not a specific symptom of Asperger's syndrome, secondary depression is often seen as a result of other conditions, including difficulty with social interaction and low self esteem.
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) identify a class of drugs normally prescribed for depression and anxiety. They include Celexa, Lexapro, Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that has an effect on behavior and mood, and SSRIs act by increasing the amount of serotonin that is effectively available for use by nerve cells in the brain. Because these drugs affect mood and behavior, SSRIs are sometimes used as an Asperger syndrome medication to help alleviate other symptoms in addition to depression, including aggression, anxiety and impulsiveness.
Antipsychotic Medication for Aggression, Irritability and Tantrums
Other drugs sometimes prescribed for those with Asperger’s syndrome are those classified as antipsychotics. Antipsychotic medications are indicated for schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. They are not approved by the FDA for treatment of autistic spectrum disorders but may be prescribed off label. These drugs are used to treat symptoms such as aggression, irritability, temper tantrums, and mood swings.
Antipsychotic drugs may also be prescribed for obsessive thought patterns, which may lead to compulsive behaviors such as repetitive movements, self-stimulation, or self-injury, as well as extreme anxiety that can arise from stress due to difficulty dealing with transitions and change. Antipsychotic medications used for Asperger’s syndrome include Risperdal (Risperidone) and Abilify (aripiprazole).
ADHD Medication for Hyperactivity and Impulsiveness
Symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), such as distractability, hyperactivity, impulsiveness, and the inability to concentrate are often seen in Asperger’s patients. While it is often unclear whether the symptoms are due to Asperger’s syndrome itself, or if the patient is also suffering from ADHD in addition to Asperger’s, ADHD medications are sometimes given to treat these symptoms. Some ADHD medications that may be prescribed include Strattera (atomoxetine), which is a non-stimulant, and Adderall or Ritalin, which are stimulants.
Do the Benefits Outweigh the Side Effects?
Many of these medications have negative side effects, and their dosage and use should be carefully monitored and evaluated by a qualified physician. Some side effects of antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs include fatigue, headache, insomnia, irritability, nausea and vomiting, sweating, and changes in appetite. The side effects of some of these drugs can be so severe that they make the patient’s condition worse rather than better. More research is needed to better understand the underlying causes of Asperger’s syndrome so that more effective treatments can be found.