What are stimulants?
Stimulants are medicines that temporarily increase mental or physical function or both. Some stimulants commonly prescribed for autistic people are dexamphetamine and methylphenidate.
Who are stimulants for?
Stimulants can be prescribed to people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Some autistic children might also be diagnosed with ADHD.
What are stimulants used for?
Stimulants are used to improve difficulties with attention, impulsivity and hyperactivity.
Where do stimulants come from?
Stimulant medicines 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 medicines 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 medicine on a daily basis. The specific medicine and dosage depends on each child’s needs.
A child psychiatrist or paediatrician should monitor the child taking the medicine. The child needs regular appointments with this doctor.
Do stimulants help autistic children?
This therapy has not yet been rated.
Stimulants don’t change the core characteristics of autism. But some evidence suggests that stimulants can help autistic children with ADHD pay attention and behave less impulsively. In turn, this can help them at school and in social situations.
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 Occasionally, autistic children can become very irritable or withdrawn, or they can develop tics or repetitive movements like arm waving.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 medicine.
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 psychiatrists at Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists – Find a psychiatrist.
Parent education, training, support and involvement
If your autistic child is taking stimulants, you need 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 varies depending 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.