Strategies for pharmacologic treatment of high functioning autism and Asperger syndrome

Child Adolesc Psychiatr Clin N Am. 2003 Jan;12(1):23-45. doi: 10.1016/s1056-4993(02)00049-4.


The treatment of complex, polymorphous disorders like HFA/AS always brings a particular challenge to pharmacotherapy. Additionally, the specific characteristics presented by HFA/AS introduce unique complications to patient care and place unusual demands on a clinician's skill and experience. To provide safe and effective treatment, the clinician must understand the core features of the disorder and the manifestations of the condition in his or her patient. Furthermore, a thorough understanding of the family, school, and community resources and limitations is necessary. Once an assessment has been made, focusing on target symptoms provides a crucial framework for care. Knowing manifestations of symptoms and characterizing their distribution and behavior in that patient is most important. For patients with HFA/AS it is particularly essential to coordinate behavioral and pharmacologic objectives. The target symptoms should be tracked carefully and placed into a priority system that is based on the risks and disability they create for the patient. The skill of pharmacotherapy also means setting out realistic expectations, keeping track of the larger systems of care at school and home, and collaboration with parents and care providers. There is an expanding range and pace of biologic and intervention research into HFA/AS. The genetic work has produced exciting leads that are likely to be helpful to future generations [82-84], but the task of clinicians is to tend to today's patients. As we discover more about the complex neural circuitry subserving repetitive behaviors, reward systems, and social cognition, there are good reasons to believe our treatments will become more sophisticated and specific. Psychopharmacology is also moving to design medications that target more specific populations of receptor and brain functions. This is likely to produce medicines that have fewer side effects, are more effective, and are more symptom-specific. Pharmacotherapy is not the ultimate treatment for HFA/AS but it has a definite place. Medication can be a critical element in a comprehensive treatment plan. There is a wider range of medications with more specific biologic effects than ever before. For patients with HFA/AS these newer agents are safer and less disruptive. When paired with clinicians who are becoming more skilled at recognizing and managing symptoms, patients have a greater opportunity to reach their potential and lead pleasurable lives.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Asperger Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Asperger Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Asperger Syndrome / psychology
  • Autistic Disorder / diagnosis
  • Autistic Disorder / drug therapy*
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology
  • Child
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence* / drug effects
  • Male
  • Patient Care Team
  • Psychotropic Drugs / adverse effects
  • Psychotropic Drugs / therapeutic use*


  • Psychotropic Drugs