What are stimulants?
Stimulants are drugs that temporarily increase mental or physical function or both. Some stimulants commonly prescribed for autistic people are dexamphetamine and methylphenidate – for example, Ritalin, Attenta and Concerta.
Who are stimulants for?
Stimulants can be prescribed to people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This can include autistic children.
What are stimulants used for?
Stimulants are used to improve difficulties with attention, impulsivity and hyperactivity.
Where do stimulants come from?
Stimulant medications have been around for over 50 years. They’ve been used to reduce impulsivity, hyperactivity and inattention in children with ADHD since the 1980s.
What is the idea behind stimulants?
Stimulant medications increase levels of a brain chemical called dopamine. Increased dopamine levels can help control impulsivity, hyperactivity and inattention. The effects of stimulants can include enhanced alertness, wakefulness and energy.
What does using stimulants involve?
This therapy involves taking oral medication on a daily basis. The specific medication and dosage depends on each child’s symptoms.
A specialist medical practitioner, like a child psychiatrist or paediatrician, should monitor the child taking the medication. The child needs regular appointments with this health professional.
The cost of this therapy varies depending on the brand of drug and the drug dose or strength. It also depends on whether the drug is covered by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and whether you hold a concession card like a Health Care Card.
Do stimulants work?
This therapy has not yet been rated.
Stimulants can have side effects. The most frequently reported side effects are decreased appetite and sleep disturbance. Occasionally, autistic children can become very irritable or withdrawn, or they can develop tics or repetitive movements like arm waving.
Who practises this method?
These professionals can give you more information about the potential benefits and risks of stimulant medication.
Parent education, training, support and involvement
If your child is taking stimulants, you need to ensure that your child takes the medication as required. You also need to monitor the effects of the medication.
Where can you find a practitioner?
Ask your child’s GP for a referral to a paediatrician or child psychiatrist who specialises in working with autistic children.
You can find a child psychiatrist by going to Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists – Find a psychiatrist.
There are many therapies for autism. They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for autistic children takes you through the main therapies, so you can better understand your child’s options.