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Update on psychopharmacology for autism spectrum disorders

Marco O. Bertelli (CREA, Research and Clinical Centre, San Sebastiano Foundation, Florence, Italy AND EAMHID, European Association for Mental Health in Intellectual Disability, Florence, Italy)
Michele Rossi (CREA, Research and Clinical Centre, San Sebastiano Foundation, Florence, Italy)
Roberto Keller (Adult Autism Spectrum Disorder Center, Local Health Unit ASL 2, Turin, Italy)
Stefano Lassi (Fondazione ODA Firenze Onlus, Florence, Italy)

Advances in Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities

ISSN: 2044-1282

Article publication date: 4 January 2016




The management of individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) requires a multimodal approach of behavioural, educational and pharmacological treatments. At present, there are no available drugs to treat the core symptoms of ASDs and therefore a wide range of psychotropic medications are used in the management of problems behaviours, co-occurring psychiatric disorders and other associated features. The purpose of this paper is to map the literature on pharmacological treatment in persons with ASD in order to identify those most commonly used, choice criteria, and safety.


A systematic mapping of the recent literature was undertaken on the basis of the following questions: What are the most frequently used psychoactive compounds in ASD? What are the criteria guiding the choice of a specific compound? How effective and safe is every psychoactive drug used in ASD? The literature search was conducted through search engines available on Medline, Medmatrix, NHS Evidence, Web of Science and the Cochrane Library.


Many psychotropic medications have been studied in ASDs, but few have strong evidence to support their use. Most commonly prescribed medications, in order of frequency, are antipsychotics, antidepressants, anticonvulsants and stimulants, many of them without definitive studies guiding their usage. Recent animal studies can be useful models for understanding the common pathogenic pathways leading to ASDs, and have the potential to offer new biologically focused treatment options.


This is a practice review paper applying recent evidence from the literature.



Authors want to thank Dr Roger Banks for the support in the text and language refinement of the present paper.


Bertelli, M.O., Rossi, M., Keller, R. and Lassi, S. (2016), "Update on psychopharmacology for autism spectrum disorders", Advances in Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities, Vol. 10 No. 1, pp. 6-26.



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Copyright © 2016, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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