Clonidine and Autism: How Does it Alleviate Symptoms?

Clonidine and Autism:  How Does it Alleviate Symptoms?
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What is Clonidine?

Clonidine, pronounced kloe ni deen, belongs to a class of drugs called alpha2-adrenergic receptor agonist. This drug is most often used to treat hypertension, but it is not a cure. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), clonidine works by decreasing the heart rate and relaxing the blood vessels. This makes it easier for blood to flow through the body. In addition to hypertension, clonidine may also be prescribed for withdrawal symptoms associated with drug, alcohol, of nicotine addiction, hot flushes (menopause), and for severe menstrual periods.

Although clonidine is most widely prescribed for hypertension, it may also be prescribed to help ease specific symptoms associated with Tourette syndrome and autism. For individuals with Tourette syndrome, clonidine has been shown to help reduce the severity of tics. Regarding clonidine and autism, the drug is believed to help ease several common symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

When is Clonidine Prescribed for Autism?

Clonidine may be prescribed to help ease sleep and behavioral disorders in children with ASD. Current studies show that treatment with clonidine is believed to be effective in treating inattention, hyperactivity, insomnia, aggressiveness, mood instability, and impulsivity. Dosage is determined by the treating physician and is based on the symptoms and the child’s weight. Usual dosage ranges anywhere from 3-6 micrograms per one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight, per day. The drug is typically divided into four daily doses. Minimizing the severity of these symptoms also helps children function better in society and in the home with parents and siblings.

Benefits of Clonidine

Because treatment with clonidine targets inattention, hyperactivity, and mood instability, it benefits school-age children by alleviating these symptoms enough so that autistic students can focus on learning.

Lack of sleep also affects the ability to pay attention and focus in learning environments. Clonidine alleviates these symptoms as well making it easier for children to stay alert and engaged in class. Social skills and the ability to “play well with others” are crucial in learning environments. Aggressiveness and impulsivity decline in children being treated with clonidine, which makes interaction with classmates easier.

Clonidine Side Effects

Most clonidine side effects occur during the first several weeks of treatment. As the body adjusts to the drug, side effects should diminish. Common side effects (again, during the early stages of treatment) include dizziness, dry mouth, lightheadedness, and constipation. Drowsiness may occur initially as well. Unlikely, but possible side effects include cold hands and feet, irregular heartbeat, and mood changes. It is important to note that most patients do not experience any side effects.


Encyclopedia Britannica, Academic Edition

National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health,

National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health,