By Raising Children Network
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At a glance: Beta-blockers
Type of therapy
The claim
Reduces feelings of anxiety and aggressive behaviour
Suitable for
People with ASD who show high levels of aggressive behaviour or experience anxiety
Research rating
Find out more about this rating system in our FAQs.
Not yet reviewed by our research sources.
Warning This medication can have some side-effects including hypotension, sleep disturbances, fatigue and dizziness.
Estimate of the total time for family in hours per week and duration.
0-10 Little time is needed to take the medication, but the treatment might be ongoing.
Estimate of cost to family per session/item or week.
Visit the Autism Service Pathfinder to browse Service Providers information.

About this intervention

What is it?
Beta-blockers are drugs traditionally prescribed to people with heart conditions to reduce pressure on the heart during physical activity. For people with autism, beta-blockers are sometimes prescribed to reduce feelings of anxiety.

Some commonly prescribed beta-blockers for autism are Tenormin, Noten, Anselol, Atehexal, (generic brand – Atenolol), Tensig Visken, Barbloc, Inderal (generic brand – Propranolol).

Who is it for?
These drugs are used for people with autism who show high levels of aggression and anxiety. Beta-blockers should not be used by asthmatics because they can narrow the airways.

What is it used for?
Beta-blockers are used to treat behaviours such as hyperactivity, impulsivity, aggression, anxiety, self-harm and obsessive-compulsive behaviour.

Where does it come from?
These drugs were first trialled for people with autism in 1987. Researchers found that they reduced aggression and improved social skills in a small group of adult participants.

What is the idea behind it?
Researchers believe that people with autism may experience high levels of anxiety or stress brought on by changes in their environment. This constant state of inner tension might lead to more extreme behaviour, like aggression.

Beta-blockers decrease the body’s ‘fight or flight’ response – a natural reaction to stress, anxiety or frustration. The idea is that, by reducing the ‘fight or flight’ response, these drugs will decrease the feelings of tension that might lead to aggressive behaviour.

Like most medical interventions, beta-blockers do not (and are not supposed to) improve the behavioural and social difficulties of autism. Instead, they are intended to reduce other symptoms associated with autism.

What does it involve?
This therapy involves taking oral medication on a daily basis. The specific medication and dosage will depend on each child’s symptoms.

A specialist medical practitioner such as a psychiatrist should monitor the person receiving the medication. Regular appointments with this professional will be needed.

Cost consideration
Cost of the medication varies depending on the medication brand, the dosage, whether the consumer holds a concession card, and whether the medication is subsidised by the government through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

Does it work?
This therapy has not yet been rated.

Who practises this method?
Your GP, paediatrician or child psychiatrist can prescribe beta-blockers and offer you information about the potential benefits and risks of using them.

Parent education, training, support and involvement
Parents will need to be involved to ensure that your child takes the medication as required and to monitor the effects of that medication. 

Where can I find a practitioner?
Your GP, paediatrician or psychiatrist can prescribe this medication and offer you information about its potential benefits and risks.

  • Last updated or reviewed 07-07-2011