Antidepressants and Autism: The Wrong Remedy?

Photo by Amanda Hatfield/Flickr

For years, many medical professionals have been prescribing selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a type of antidepressant, to treat the symptoms of autism. SSRIs are prescribed for the treatment of the many abnormalities associated with ASD such as depression, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

Though surely some patients have found SSRIs to be helpful to managing the symptoms of autism, the idea of antidepressants as being and effective treatment for autism has been widely disputed. A recent study by Williams K, Wheeler DM, Silove N, Hazell P, helped to shed more light on this by reviewing past studies and compiling data that has been gathered over time.  The data included randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of any dose of oral SSRI compared with placebo, in participants with ASD.

In the study, researchers sought to find if treatment with an SSRI improved the core features of autism (social interaction, communication and behavioral problems); improved other non-core aspects of behavior or function such as self-injurious behavior; improved the quality of life of children and their caretakers; has short and long term effects on outcome; caused harm [1].

photo by: joeszilagyi/flickr

The results showed that antidepressants, particularly when used on children with autism, did not show a significant impact in their behavior. In fact, there is emerging evidence of harm associated with SSRI use for children with ASD. Additionally, there is limited evidence of the effectiveness of SSRIs in adults from small studies in which risk of bias is unclear. The authors suggest that prescription decisions be made on a case-by-case basis and that physicians heavily consider the side effects of these drugs when prescribing them.



1. Williams Katrina, Wheeler Danielle M, Silove Natalie, Hazell Philip. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: Reviews 2010 Issue 8 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd Chichester, UK DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD004677.pub2

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