What are atypical antipsychotics?
Atypical antipsychotics are medicines that are traditionally prescribed to people for schizophrenia and other psychoses.
Some commonly prescribed atypical antipsychotics for autistic people are risperidone, quetiapine, aripiprazole, ziprasidone and olanzapine.
Who are atypical antipsychotics for?
These medicines are used for autistic people who show high levels of anxiety, seem irritable or nervous, or have high levels of aggressive behaviour or hyperactive behaviour.
What are atypical antipsychotics used for?
Some people believe that atypical antipsychotics can be used to treat some of the more difficult problems faced by autistic people, including aggressive behaviour, temper tantrums, hyperactive behaviour, repetitive behaviour, irritability and self-injury (like hitting or biting themselves).
Where do atypical antipsychotics come from?
Before atypical antipsychotics came typical antipsychotics. These were first developed in the 1950s as a treatment for serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia.
In the 1970s and 1980s, researchers started testing typical antipsychotics for use with autistic children. They were used to treat children’s behaviour symptoms, but they had some significant side effects.
Atypical antipsychotics were developed to reduce these side effects.
What is the idea behind atypical antipsychotics?
In the brain, signals move along connections between brain cells with the help of receptors. Receptors are small message receivers on the outside of each brain cell, a bit like chemical antennae that pick up specific signals. Antipsychotic drugs block specific receptors in the brain, and it’s thought that this reduces the activity in these parts of the brain.
What does the use of atypical antipsychotics involve?
The medicine can be swallowed or taken as an injection. The specific medicine and dosage depends on each child’s symptoms.
A specialist medical practitioner like a paediatrician or child psychiatrist must monitor the child taking the medicine. The child needs regular appointments with this professional, as well as regular check-ups to monitor weight gain and liver function.
Do atypical antipsychotics help autistic children?
Some research has shown positive effects from this therapy, but more high-quality studies are needed to weigh up any positive effects against potential long-term risks or side effects.
Who practises this method?
GPs, paediatricians and psychiatrists can prescribe atypical antipsychotics and give you information about the potential benefits and risks of using them.
Where can you find a practitioner?
If you’re interested in atypical antipsychotics, see your GP, a paediatrician or a child psychiatrist.
You can find psychiatrists at Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists – Find a psychiatrist.
Parent education, training, support and involvement
If your child is taking atypical antipsychotics, you need to be involved to ensure that your child takes the medicine as prescribed. You also need to monitor the effects of the medicine.
The cost of this therapy depends on the brand of medicine used and its dose or strength. It also depends on whether the medicine is covered by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and whether you hold a concession card like a Health Care Card.
Therapies and supports for autistic children range from behaviour therapies and developmental approaches to medicines and alternative therapies. When you understand the main types of therapies and supports for autistic children, it’ll be easier to work out the approach that will best suit your child.