Newer drug appears to reduce severe behavior in children with autism

Thursday, August 1st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

A newer drug used to treat adults with schizophrenia also curtails serious behavioral problems in children with autism, a study shows.

Older medications used to treat troublesome conduct can have severe side effects. The research reported in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine is the first large, controlled study in autistic children of a newer type of antipsychotic drug with fewer adverse reactions.

The drug, Risperdal, was tested in 101 children with autism who had aggressive behavior, temper tantrums or hurt themselves. Sixty-nine percent of the children who took Risperdal showed a positive response by the end of the eight-week test, compared to 12 percent of the children who were given a dummy pill.

The drug, also known as risperidone, continued to be effective for six months in most of the children who benefited, said Lawrence Scahill of the Yale Child Study Center, the lead author of the study done in five cities.

The government-funded research confirmed the results of smaller tests in children, and Scahill said doctors already use Risperdal for behaviorial problems in children with autism, a brain disorder which impairs development.

``We feel this ought to help people decide for whom it is likely to be helpful, at what dose, and what they can expect in terms of side effects,'' he said.

The researchers said Risperdal didn't cause the neurological side effects associated with older drugs, such as awkward movements, stiffening of muscles and restlessness. Those in the Risperdal group did have an average weight gain of 6 pounds. Other mild reactions were fatigue, drowsiness, dizziness and drooling.

Dr. Isabelle Rapin of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York said the results are encouraging and should be followed by larger, longer studies of treatments for autism. ``Such studies are sorely needed,'' she wrote in a commentary in the journal.