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Minerva Psichiatrica 2003 September;44(3):135-42

language: Italian

Psychopharmacological treatment of behavioural problems in autism

Brambilla P., Perez J., Barale F., Barbui C.


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Autism is a neuropsychiatric syndrome characterized by impairment of social interaction, language, and cognitive functions. Clinical features and cognitive impairments persist throughout life and are associated with mental retardation in the majority of patients. Genetic, developmental and environmental factors have been suggested to be involved as possible causal or predisposing effects toward developing autism. Up to date, there is not a gold-standard drug for the treatment of autism. So, often, the primary focus of psychopharmacological treatment becomes behavioural problems and cognitive symptoms associated to autism. The current literature suggests that atypical antipsychotics may be useful in treating behavioural disturbances, such as hyperactivity, aggressiveness, and irritability. On the other hand, antidepressants may be effective in ameliorating cognitive deficits and affective symptoms. However, the majority of the available studies have poor quality, being open-label, conducted with small sample size and for short period. Randomized, double blind, placebo controlled studies are required to further clarify the effectiveness of atypical antipsychotics and SSRI in treating behavioural, cognitive and affective symptoms in autism. In this context, psychotropic drugs in autism should be used on a case-by-case basis, considering the clinical status of the patient.

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