Objective: To review the literature on autism and pervasive developmental disorders (PDDs) as well as their respective pharmacotherapies.
Data sources: An Index Medicus, MEDLINE, and bibliographic search of the literature pertaining to autism, PDDs, and respective treatments.
Study selection: Because of the paucity of literature on the treatment of autism and PDDs, the selection of reported data for this review included both controlled and uncontrolled studies, as well as case reports and any other information reported in the literature on the treatment of these disorders.
Data synthesis: Autism and PDDs are severe developmental disabilities defined by behavioral criteria. These disorders are lifelong in nature and present in varying severity of clinical manifestations. Behavioral manifestations of patients with autism include core deficits in social interaction, communication, and imaginative activities, with a restricted repertoire of activities and interests. The present understanding of the neurochemical basis of the disorder is limited. The role of pharmacotherapy in the management of autism and PDDs is to ameliorate behavioral symptoms that interfere with the patient's ability to participate in educational, social, work, and family systems. Agents that have shown positive clinical effects in the treatment of children with autism and PDDs are reviewed in this article.
Conclusions: Autism is a complex developmental disorder representing a heterogeneous group of individuals with similar symptomatologies and multiple biologic etiologies. Present pharmacotherapeutic intervention seeks to resolve behavioral symptoms. Treatment of autism and PDDs requires appropriate delineation of the behaviors and neurobiologic disorders associated with each patient. No single therapeutic agent, or combination thereof, is appropriate for the treatment of all children and adults with autism or PDDs.