Antipsychotic medication for behaviour that challenges and autism

Some evidence – there is enough evidence to indicate that this can be a helpful treatment option.

If psychosocial interventions for behaviour that challenges are not helping enough or you haven’t been able to try one, then your professional might offer you medication. This should be prescribed by a psychiatrist or pediatrician, and it will usually be an antipsychotic medication.

Your professional should talk to you and (if appropriate) your parents or carers about the side effects of the medication, whether you have taken antipsychotic medication before, and your preferences. You and your parents or carers should be involved in any decisions about medication, and you or your parents or carers will need to give informed consent before you start taking any medication.

How does taking medication work?

If you are prescribed medication to help with challenging behaviour, then your paediatrician or psychiatrist should talk with you (and your parents or carers, if appropriate) about exactly which behaviours they hope the medication will help with. Your professional should also talk with you and your parents or carers about how to measure whether the medication is working (e.g. whether your challenging behaviour happens less often and whether your challenging behaviour becomes less serious).    

You should start taking medication at the lowest dose that could be helpful, and you should have regular reviews of the benefits and side effects. Ideally, you should be prescribed medication at the same time as having a psychosocial intervention.  

Your professional should see you three to four weeks after starting the medication to talk with you and your parents or carers (if appropriate) about how well the medication is working and whether you are experiencing any side effects. If you have been taking the medication for six weeks and it has not been helpful, your professional should help you to stop taking it. 

If one professional prescribes your medication at first, but this is going to be continued by another professional, they should make sure your other professional has all the information they need. This includes clear information about the behaviours you hope the medication will help with, how they should monitor the benefits and side effects, the dose you should be taking, how long you should be taking the medication, and plans for stopping the medication.  

When antipsychotic medications are prescribed for a long time (more than a few weeks), it’s important to monitor physical effects, which would involve blood tests, an electrocardiogram (ECG) and a physical health check-up. Your doctor should talk to you and your parents or carers about what monitoring is needed and what could help with your physical health monitoring 

Prescribing should follow the principles set out in the Stop Over Medicating People with learning disabilities (STOMP) and Supporting Treatment and Appropriate Medication in Paediatrics (STAMP) leaflet.

Treatments outlined on these webpages may not be available in every local area. It’s important that you discuss with your GP or mental health professional the treatment options available to you. You can also search for services near you on our Youth Wellbeing Directory and find out more about referral processes here.

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