Other common names: risperidone, quetiapine, aripiprazole, ziprasidone, olanzapine
At a glance: Atypical antipsychotics
Type of therapy
Medical
The claim
Reduces anxiety and repetitive and hyperactive behaviour
Suitable for
People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
Research rating

Find out more about this rating system in our FAQs.

Some research shows positive effects, more research needed.
Warnings
Warning   This medication can have some side effects including weight gain, drooling, involuntary tremors, tiredness, drowsiness, increased appetite and increased heart rate. Also, long-term use has been linked with heart problems.
Time

Estimate of the total time for family in hours per week and duration

0-10
Little time is needed to take the medication, but treatment is ongoing.
Cost

Estimate of cost to family per session/item or week

$0-30
The cost of this therapy varies depending on the type of medication used (that is, the specific brand of drug), whether the drug is covered by the PBS, the drug dose or strength, and whether you hold a concession card like a Health Care Card.

What are atypical antipsychotics?

Atypical antipsychotics are a group of drugs that are traditionally prescribed to people for schizophrenia and other psychoses. Some commonly prescribed atypical antipsychotics for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are risperidone, quetiapine, aripiprazole, ziprasidone and olanzapine.

Who are atypical antipsychotics for?

These drugs are used for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who show high levels of anxiety, seem irritable or nervous, or have high levels of aggressive or hyperactive behaviour.

What are atypical antipsychotics used for?

Some people believe that atypical antipsychotics can be used to treat some of the more difficult problems faced by people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including aggressive behaviour, temper tantrums, hyperactive behaviour, repetitive behaviour, irritability and self-injury (like hitting themselves in the head or biting themselves).

Where do atypical antipsychotics come from?

Before atypical antipsychotics came typical antipsychotics. These were first developed in the 1950s as a treatment for serious mental illnesses like schizophrenia. Later, in the 1970s and 1980s, researchers started testing typical antipsychotics for use with children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They were used to treat children’s behaviour symptoms, but they had some significant side effects. Atypical antipsychotics were developed to reduce these side effects.

What is the idea behind atypical antipsychotics?

In the brain, signals move along connections between brain cells with the help of receptors. Receptors are small message receivers on the outside of each brain cell, a bit like chemical antennae that pick up specific signals. Antipsychotic drugs block specific receptors in the brain, and it’s thought that this reduces the activity in these parts of the brain.

What does the use of atypical antipsychotics involve?

The medication can be swallowed or taken as an injection. The specific medication and dosage depends on each child’s symptoms.

A specialist medical practitioner like a paediatrician or child psychiatrist should monitor the child taking the medication. The child needs regular appointments with this professional, as well as regular check-ups to monitor weight gain and liver function.

Cost considerations

The cost of this therapy depends on the brand of drug used, whether the drug is covered by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), the drug dose or strength, and whether you hold a concession card like a Health Care Card.

Do atypical antipsychotics work?

Some research has shown positive effects from this therapy, but more high-quality studies are needed to weigh up any positive effects against potential long-term risks or side effects.

Who practises this method?

GPs, paediatricians and psychiatrists can prescribe atypical antipsychotics and give you information about the potential benefits and risks of using them.

Parent education, training, support and involvement

If your child is taking atypical antipsychotics, you need to be involved to ensure that your child takes the medication as required. You also need to monitor the effects of the medication.

Where can you find a practitioner?

If you’re interested in atypical antipsychotics, it’s best to speak about this therapy with your GP, paediatrician or a child psychiatrist.

Go to Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists – Find a psychiatrist.

You could also talk about this therapy with your NDIA planner, NDIS early childhood partner or NDIS local area coordination partner, if you have one.

There are many treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for children with ASD takes you through the main treatments, so you can better understand your child’s options.

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Last updated or reviewed
01-08-2017

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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