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Terri Mauro

Ritalin for autism?

By November 10, 2005

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Long the drug of choice for ADHD, Ritalin may now become a common prescription for kids with autism spectrum disorders. Researchers at the Indiana University School of Medicine found that Ritalin was effective in reducing hyperactive and impulsive behavior in children with ASD, and also helped with inattention and distractibility. While help in managing the behaviors of children with autism and PDD is always welcome, it's worth noting that 13 of the 72 children in the study withdrew early due to side effects. The researchers warn that adverse effects are a distinct possibility, and the findings of an apparent benefit are preliminary.
September 14, 2009 at 7:34 pm
(1) Betty Mack says:

My son was diagnosed with autism at age 5 and began taking ritalin. Around the age of 8 he became psychotic and was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 9. I lost custody of my son (because I refused to commit him) before other doctors finally figured out it was toxic psychosis. I cannot begin to describe the nightmare. When I finally got him back, I moved and developed my own regiment. Exercise, diet, and only positive emotions including as much joy and peacefulness as possible. My son has been a tech support specialist who has started his own business. He has recently been diagnosed a genius. Meds are ok for short-term but long-term commitment and perseverence is extremely important. There is no doubt in my mind that autism began in the womb, but we have everything we need to fix it on earth – fresh air, raw foods, spices, fish, juice, etc. It just takes patience and proper right direction so that each day is better than the day before. And all of a sudden, the door opens, and what a wonderful surprise! Good luck!

September 15, 2009 at 4:36 pm
(2) Aimee says:

I think meds have their place, but I have serious concers. My daughter with autism is non-verbal. How is she supposed to tell me that she feels bad on these meds. I know that she can show me in some gestural ways, but that is not always effective. When my daughter was having serious issues sleeping her doc recomended that she take meds. I refused and found other ways to calm her. For example: keep a routine, use white noise or music, back rubs, adjust lighting, and so on. Meds should never be the first thing a doc tells you to try. Our kids need help, but they are not guinea pigs either. There has to be a compramise somewhere.

September 20, 2009 at 8:23 pm
(3) Joan Chitty says:

We were foster parents to 3 mentally impaired and violent teenage boys (before we retired due to my husbands ill health) and whilst I agree that meds have their place, I personally think that medications are often given too freely to these children – I found that Ritalin in particular was not beneficial at all. One of our boys was put on Ritalin and yes it gave the child some focus but it also heightened his violent behavior.So after consultation with his parents we took him off it.
I personally felt that sometimes drugs were given for the sole purpose of making the children manageable and to me this wasn’t acceptable. I believe in giving these children the best quality of life they can possibly have and making them zombies will never give them any quality of life at all.

March 21, 2010 at 12:52 pm
(4) John Chin says:

My son is 5yrs old, he was diagnosed with ASD at the age of 2+ and I have been learning and teaching him. He now goes to a Kindergarden and is reasonably bright (speaks 3 languages) and is very interested in music. He sits down in his classes and hardly has any attention issues according to his teachers.

1 month ago the doctor insisted that he be prescribed to take Ritalin after a 2minute observing his ‘exploring’ the clinic. I am being told that if he does not take it before he reaches 6yrs old, it will not be effective and he will not be able to concentrate on his studies. The doctor refused to inform when asked what the side effects of the drug was.

I really love my son and I don’t want to see Him suffering for that drug. What can I do? Please help

March 22, 2010 at 12:46 pm
(5) specialchildren says:

John, I’ve written about your comment in a new post at http://specialchildren.about.com/b/2010/03/22/doctor-insists-on-ritalin-parent-not-so-sure.htm to try and get you some advice on this. Please check the comments there as well as here for opinions on your situation.

My opinion is that it sounds like what you need is not a new prescription, but a new doctor.

April 16, 2010 at 4:34 am
(6) Andrea says:

my son is now 5 and 1/4 and has just started ritalin the dr wanted 2 start him last year but i said no i will see how he goes at school but its not going so good he is a beautiful boy but he hurts his 6 yo sister alot and is very aggresive his speech is 100 percent now, he rocks back and fourth alot i have tried all diet needs foods exercice and finally gave in to medacating him i am so worried that he is going to hurt himself or someone else and dont no if this is the right thing for him he says he wants to die or get ran over it scares me and thats why i am looking for more answers

July 8, 2010 at 11:22 pm
(7) Jo says:

I can really sympathise with Andrea…..have you tried a biomed diet with your son? I am in the process of beginning it with my 5 yr old son, whom sounds a little similar to your son. My son needs to be on a sugar free, gluten free, yeast and milk free diet, sounds hard but I was surprised to find many of these foods in the supermarket so I am slowly introducing these foods to him and most products are quite nice for the whole family.

My son’s therapist works with many children non on ritalin but almost all on biomed and she claims that all her children she works with are calm and parents say it is due to the food and biomed treatments.

Yesterday I took my son to his 6mthly appointment to his pediatrition and she told me to try and gave me a script for ritalin……. I am soo resistant and against the whole idea, I will give the biomed a good go before I even contemplate meds. I am a strong believer that nature (Gods creation) has the answers.

All the best to all the parents of ASD special children may God bless them all.

October 14, 2010 at 10:40 pm
(8) Christopher says:

Hello, I am 17 years old any have AS; please note that I do not suffer from it. I am very happy at the current time and although having being diagnosed with both AS and ADHD, I believe that reducing my hyperactivity and attention deficit with ritalin allows me to focus on my real interests as well as perform to a higher standard in both my studies and my alternate activites. My case is probably different to other people and as my circumstances are probably a great deal different to others, I don’t actually have an adverse opinion on medicine that affects ADHD as I feel that it allows me to concentrate properly and not be a nuissance to my parents by being very energetic and abusive. Furthermore, I feel that I am able to concentrate in my classes and behave more appropriately.

Originally I was against taking any medication that would make me feel like I was a different person as I was under the impression that taking drugs would manipulate me into being a person that I felt was not myself. I sometimes feel the same but I see ritalin as being a drug that helps me be who I am but also thank my excessive obsessions in my favourite fields because if I wasn’t interested in my subject, I would still be failing my classes whilst drawing pictures of transformers at the back of the room.

December 22, 2010 at 1:10 pm
(9) Jonathan says:

I am an adult on ritalin (methylphenidate). Officially I hold a diagnosis of ADHD, but my p-doc, along with many others, suspect that I truly suffer from PDD-NOS. My daughter also has recently recieved a diagnosis of PDD-NOS. After being put on ritalin, I discover that I can actually communicate with the world around me. As I approach 40 years of age, I finally see how I hurt myself and others around me whom I loved simply because I never could COMPREHEND.

Time is the main issue, you see. Waiting is not an option, because the skills need to be learned as soon as possible. Taking stimulant meds is not about keeping a child under control or even helping her to remember her pencil. These children overload in social situations. Making and keeping friends is work for them. Even asking for help is work for them. Answering questions the neurotypical think of as simple is a rush of information for them, a cause for panic.

If ritalin helps my girl avoid the hell that was my pathetic, confused existance that I will have to spend the rest of my life untangling, and there is no other obvious course of action, I will do what needs to be done.

Those who just get the “heebie-jeebies” about meds need to weigh that feeling against the ability of your child to react to the massively complex world that faces them. If they are too slow they will get squashed, and then it will be too late to change your mind. If you know a tsunami is coming, you don’t hang around on the beach waiting to see how high the water gets.

I wish all of you good luck and the vision to see what the future looks like for our children.

January 18, 2011 at 3:06 pm
(10) Craig says:

Please listen to Jonathon. He speaks the truth. Ritalin is about allowing your kids to focus and learn. If it doesn’t work or they have an adverse reaction, you can always take them off the medication. I’m sorry but fish and clean air won’t focus a child that has brain damage and a chemical imbalance. That’s what autism really is, brain damage. Modern medicine may give an autistic child a small miracle in its ability to allow a child to LEARN!

February 6, 2011 at 6:16 pm
(11) Ryan says:

My son was diagnosed with ASD at 2 1/2 yr old(severe). With 6 to 8 hrs of behavioral, speech and OT therapy for the last 2 yrs, I have to say that he is now a different kid. Docs would categorized him close to a PDD NOS diagnosis. From non verbal to speaking few sentences. His biggest challenge is inattention/eye gazing that can be so overwhelming for him to control. We started him on Ritalin to help him focus but in 2nd week of this drug, he became increasingly anxious and fearful to so many things like his image on the mirror, glass, lights, being in the crowd and indoor public places, his goes on blank stare for longer periods, his inattention has gone worst. Emotionally labile. I went with him for his speech therapy last week and I witnessed ( 3 hr following ritalin dose) he was literally shaking, crying and very tense. Could not follow commands and couldnt look at the item presented to him. Since we started Ritalin, he has changed and felt like I lost my son. We stopped Ritalin and in 2 days, he became himself again. We are now back to playing basketball and baseball. All these symptomsof bad reaction were gone almost immidiately. I trully believe, Ritalin is not for everyone and as a parent of a child with Autism, everything that you try is a trial and error process. Keep you mind open to other avenues but when its hurting your child stop it and move on.

March 14, 2011 at 10:40 pm
(12) Angela says:

My son is now 11. He was diagnosed with PDD-NOS/ADHD at the age of 3. We first tried Adderall, that was a disaster in the first week!! He litteraly destroyed my kitchen. So I stopped that med right away, the dr then prescribed Risperidal which he has done so very well on. He has had to increase the dose over the years and he is now on 2mg in am, lunch, and pm. He around the age of 6 began to “wonder” he couldnt sit still, he was very loud, and couldnt concentrate! This would aggrevate him to the point he would become violent. So the dr tried focalin, and as with the adderall he was worse than when we started. So we stopped that and just slowly but surely began increasing the risperdal which has been ok until recently!! He has been diagnosed with a few other significant medical problems that are not to do with PDD-NOS/ADHD but since these problems started he has become very aggressive, his wondering has increased, he has not been able to sleep without the help of melatonin. Recently the dr tried concerta and very quickly began increasing that dose with no success so he added ritalin on top of that and my son was to the point where they were ready to call the sherriffs on him at his school. So I as a mother took him off both the concerta and ritalin 3 days ago. He has slept alot but he is much more pleasant. He says he feels more calm and he doesnt want to be on those meds anymore. But he seems to be in a haze. Does anyone know of any non-stimulant drugs that are worth trying?

May 23, 2011 at 8:21 am
(13) Jennifer says:

Dear Christopher,
Thank you so much for your insight on Ritalin. I purposely came to this website just to research the use of that med on autism. My daughter is 12. I was very hesitant to start her on meds but did, a year ago. I saw IMMEDIATE progress and after 6 months we felt the need to up her dosage (she had a tremendous growth spurt). I am a nurse and was uncomfortable giving her one of the drugs, knowing it was a “heavy duty drug”. We recently felt as though the benefits of this drug were no longer outweighing the side effects so we weaned her off of it. I wanted to gather baseline data regarding her behavior and now we see the full extent of our child without the aid of drug intervention. It is horrifying. She is tortured by her sensory issues, inability to focus and hyperactivity. I now know that meds are the right choice, for her. I was exploring Ritalin and your post encouraged me to try it. Thank you for that rare gem of giving us a glimpse into the awesome and amazing mind of a person with autism. You, like my precious daughter, are my heros. Thank you again!

July 10, 2011 at 7:42 am
(14) Amanda says:

Thank you all so much or your insight. I have two asd sons and the oldest at 6 is struggling terribly with behavior. School wants to kick him out. He isn’t intentionally violent, he just becomes aggressive at times. I am now willing o explore medication, as my poor boy is suffering an being let down by the education system. Do I try rispiradrol or Ritalin first?

July 14, 2011 at 5:10 pm
(15) Claire says:


I am an ABA Therapist with four years experience having worked with a wide variety of ASD children who range from very high to low functioning. I have one client (let’s call him Jason) who I have been working with for about a year. He is five years old. When we first began working together, he was fairly bright, compliant, happy, and his progress in therapy was quite good. Then about two months later, he showed a rapid and severe regression: he hated to work, threw tantrums easily, lost probably about %50 of the knowledge and skills he had before, and started stimming relentlessly in every way possible (mouth, babbling, hands, legs, rocking, etc.) He even started soiling himself, despite having been toilet trained before. There was no change in his environment or the way anyone was treating him.
Through persistent therapy, I have gotten him back to his original level, he is happier and more compliant, but he is still stimming relentlessly, and is not making any progress in terms of learning. He has an EXTREMELY hard time focusing, and it seems like he’s always in his own world, having 10 different conversations at once in his head.
I believe strongly in ABA Therapy and have had loads of success even with very difficult children. But with Jason, I’ve gotten to a point where I really don’t believe therapy can get him through this. I have pushed the parents and social worker for months to get him to see a psychiatrist, and finally, we are going tomorrow. I think that Jason has both ASD and ADHD, and I’m REALLY hoping Ritalin or something else will help him.

September 1, 2011 at 12:04 am
(16) Heather says:

My son is seven years old, and he was diagnosed with PDD-NOS/autism at four. We’ve done speech and behavior therapies since 18 months. Like most parents, I knew something was wrong even before the official diagnosis.

Since my son first entered school, we have struggled with spurts of impulsive, sometimes aggressive behavior. We have tried private speech therapy and ABA therapy. Both have been helpful, however, in the past five years or so, I have not witnessed such a huge positive change in my son since we started him on extended-release Ritalin. I’m not thrilled about the idea due to the nature of the drug and the possible side effects. However, it is amazing to see my son be able to sit, focus, and learn almost like a typical kid. It is almost like the drug helps him control himself. Even his speech seems clearer and his sentences more complex. I think critics of the drug need to realize what life is like for children with autism and their families. If they could see that we just want to help our kids with very basic life skills, like sitting next to someone and resisting the urge to hit them, or eat lunch at a table with other children, or sit in circle time for 15 minutes without melting down–these are the things we count as huge successes. My child is capable of doing more of these seemingly basic things with the help of Ritalin.

February 4, 2012 at 8:41 am
(17) karen says:

My son is 9 years of age he has asd and two days ago he tried to jump from the upstairs windows and he beat me with his fists and any implement he could find. I have two other children who are quite depressed and scared of everything that happens to us on a daily basis. I have put off introducing medication because I don’t believe in taking it myself. I now realise that all my children need me to make the right decision to stop the torture we are all going through including my son with asd, he says to me his heart hurts every time he hurts us so I think it’s time he felt some calm. I just hope the doctors listen to me, I’m not very good at talking about how bad it really is, I feel like I’m moaning.

February 14, 2012 at 2:13 pm
(18) Debbie says:

My son is now almost 9 yrs old. He was diagnosed at age 7 with PDD-NOS which finally explained so many things. He had already been on clonidine for his tics which started at 3 1/2 which helped him with his adhd and tics in kindergarten, but he could not focus, sit still or get along with other kids or adults in first grade. The first day we tried the Ritalin LA, I received a phone call from the school at 9:30 AM asking if we had done something different with our son. He was sitting, paying attention, getting along with others and enjoying what he was doing! He went on through the rest of the year and became a completely changed child. School and home was entirely different and beyond our wildest imagination. The ritalin even helped his sensory issues and speech. He made enormous progress for the remainder of first grade and all the way through second grade, The down side came when we needed to increase his dosage but couldn’t because his tics were out of control when we increased his dosage, so we had to try a new medication and several more since then. Nothing has done as good a job especially without making him drousy or feel weird and I truly wish we could go back to it. My son now has a very difficult time getting along with others and focusing. Stratterra and tenex have been our last resort and although it is better than nothing, nothing was as good as the Ritalin LA for my son. I am a firm believer though, that every medication is different for every different person. I never would have ever thought medication could change so much. Good luck to you all!

May 9, 2012 at 3:43 pm
(19) Robin says:

I have two autistic boys. My 19 just last year had a hormonal change and I placed him on resperdal. He gained some weight but excellent results. My 7 year old is non-verbal, tantruming and just darn right stubborn at times is not on anything. I have never believed in medication but after the results with my oldest and some of the post from here I’m sure it will settle him down and he will be able to learn better.

August 1, 2012 at 8:28 am
(20) GHDavis, MD says:

Ritalin is often dosed incorrectly, according to weight. There is no relationship between weight and how much Ritalin is effective for a given person. (Ritalin is the prototype, but this information applies equally to all stimulant medications.) If the drug is started at the lowest dose and increased very gradually, there is usually great benefit with no side effects. If the dose is started too high, or if it is increased too rapidly, the patient may never achieve the correct dose for him/her. Just as wearing glasses too strong makes vision worse, taking medication at the wrong dose can make symptoms much worse. If your doctor doses your medication by weight, find another doctor.

August 8, 2012 at 3:11 pm
(21) Dannie says:

We have a ten year old boy who was diagnosed with DAMP syndrome 3 and a half years ago. For those who haven’t heard of it, Deficits in Attention (ADHD), Motor Planning and Perception (Asperger Syndrome). W refused to go down the medication road and pursued various other treatments including physical therapy, naturopathic/homeopathic, herbal and also spent a lot of money on feedback therapy sessions (google it for more info). Some of these things helped a little. He has the most amazing, tolerant, understanding teacher, who’s generally against medication also, but suggested we needed to go back to our paediatrician to explore options and opened our eyes a bit to the reality that he is not growing out of this and that although there have been some improvement with some of his behaviours in class, a lot of them were still heightened and were holding him back from learning properly. So although we had simply learned to tolerate his behaviours at home (still often very stressful), we realised that it was time to rethink the medication. We don’t want him to fall way behind, at the moment he is operating at about 25% compared to the rest of the class with his maths, and can’t still or stay focused long enough to get his work done. So we’ve been given ritalin for him to start slowly with on the weekend so we can watch for emotional reactions (and are to take him off it if there is one). The reality check for me was refusing to try him on medication because of our beliefs has left him falling behind. So we are hopeful that the weekend will bring some improvements. And secretly hoping (with a little guilt) that there will not only be an improvement with his school life, but also at home with his impulse behaviours etc. so I’m looking forward to maybe not having to hear myself saying (sometimes yelling :( his name. Fingers crossed.

August 11, 2012 at 9:26 pm
(22) Melisaa says:

Hi everyone, I have a 5 year old daughter who was born premature. She has not been diagnosed with anything as of yet, but she Babbles, Rock and Moans a lot. She does not speak in complete sentences and is very jittery sometimes! I’m so nervous because I don’t know what the diagnosed will be…does these symptoms sounds familar to anyone?

August 31, 2012 at 6:49 pm
(23) Jo says:

I work as a speech pathologist specializing in children with ASD and also work in an acute child &adolescent mental health unit. Most of the children on my caseload that have had early intervention and ongoing therapy (speech & OT) are not medicated and are doing well. Recently two of my clients both Aspergers, one a girl of 8 years and a young man of 17 years were both given Ritalin with devastating effects. The young girl went from a happy, bubbly child who loved drawing unicorns in pinks and purples to an angry aggressive child who drew pictures with a focus on death in black and reds. Her mother reported this to the pediatrician who told her that it wouldn’t be the medication causing these changes. The mother withdrew the medication and her daughter returned to normal. The young man was fine for nearly to weeks before becoming increasingly aggressive and he was very close to being placed in the acute mental health facility where I work. He reported to his mother that he was scared as he was having thoughts of killing people, stabbing them, of wanting to see blood. The doctors have adjusted his medications and have altered his Ritalin dose. We are at this time waiting to see if this has a positive affect for him. While medications may have their place we should not be complacent and should realize all individuals with ASD are just that INDIVIDUALS. One size (medication) does not fit all.

October 24, 2012 at 5:51 pm
(24) jan says:

I have two son ASD. One ASD/Tourettes that has been on ritalin for many years and it has worked really well for him.
My older son ASD/ID is on Zyprexa which is also working well but have been wanting to try ritalin on him for years as he too has ADHD. We tried one tablet this week having high hopes. He was so aggressive more than normal and was unsafe to be allowed in public. I am dissappointed that it didnt work how I hoped. but he certainly won’t be having another. Some of our kids it works well with like my other son who only takes it during school days. Major difference with my older son. NEVER again. jan

April 15, 2014 at 2:41 pm
(25) Alyson C says:

My son was officially diagnosed at age 3 with PDD after the 1st 3 years of his little life arguing with specialists and Dr’s from Kansas, Missouri and Georgia, one Psychiatrist finally listened to me and diagnosed hon with PDD. My so. Is now 7 in the 1st grade and doing great. He has been ob Ritalin for almost 2 years. And despite the sleeplessness and having to give him all natural Melatonin to help him every night. I was informed that Ritalin in Autistic children causes ticks and unexplained habits and behavior that caries ans changes every cycle of 4 weeks or more, and sure enough he was right, however my son now has Tourette type symptoms or squealing and coughing and barking repeatedly the last couple of months. He only gets the pill once a day even thought he Dr prescribed to be taken twice a day. He really only needs during school hours. I am concerned, and ticked off about the drug it has it’s benefits but the side effects are far worse than the disorder itself. I feel Ritalin is more for kids with ADD and ADHD rather than Autistic children, even though ADD is one small characteristic in Autistic kids I feel the drug may spark a suppressed gene or cause irreversible damage…HELP!!

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