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How Effective Is Risperidone for Autism?

By T. Carrier
Updated Feb 22, 2024
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Treatment of autism may necessitate a number of approaches, including risperidone and other drug interventions. Using risperidone for autism typically yields positive results according to scientific studies. It can alleviate behavioral problems such as hyperactivity and aggression. Side effects of risperidone may be adverse in some cases, however. The long-term potential of treatments is questionable as well.

Autism is a spectrum disorder that can have a wide range of manifestations and degrees of severity. Most pharmaceutical treatments will address the general autism indicators, such as delays in socialization and language development, obsessive and compulsive disorders, and behavioral issues. Prescribing drugs like risperidone for autism often comes after other treatment approaches like behavioral or occupational therapy have yielded poor results.

Since the drug is mainly an anti-psychotic drug that works on dopamine receptors to temper negative emotions, it primarily addresses behavioral problems. Some of the primary areas risperidone treats are self-injury, aggressive tantrums, and hyperactivity. Successful behavioral treatments earned the drug its certification by the United States Food and Drug Administration, among other pharmaceutical organizations. The influence the drug has over other autism-related behaviors like impaired communication skills or obsessive rituals is less known. Behavioral treatment drugs like risperidone have garnered particular interest from the scientific community because they — unlike the commonplace autism drug haloperidol — could possibly be more easily given to children.

Some scientific research seems to support the positive role of risperidone for autism treatment. Many studies have found a correlation between the drug’s use and behavioral improvement in adults. Scientific analyses have also demonstrated that autistic children taking risperidone show improvements on behavioral measures in comparison to children not taking the drug.

Questions remain about the long-term potential of risperidone for autism treatment, however. Research suggests that the positive behavioral effects may drop off in some individuals after a period of time, thus making the drug's impact short-term. Long-term studies concerning using risperidone for autism have remained scarce.

Certain side effects also deserve a mention when considering effectiveness and risks of risperidone. Specific documented effects of the drug include the following: drowsiness, dizziness, drooling, muscle pain, and weight gain. While these consequences are undesirable, most drugs do cause some side effects, and degrees of interference will vary by individual. One group of individuals who are advised against taking risperidone is dementia patients. Side effects in these individuals are decidedly more serious, such as a higher risk for stroke.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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