Other common names: dexamphetamine and methylphenidate (Ritalin, Attenta and Concerta)
At a glance: Stimulants
Type of therapy
Medical
The claim
Might help people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) manage inattention and hyperactivity
Suitable for
People of all ages with inattention and hyperactivity, including children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
Research rating
Not yet reviewed by our research sources.
Warnings
Warning   This therapy requires careful monitoring of effectiveness and side effects. In some people, it can increase repetitive movements, decrease appetite and disturb sleep.
Time
0-10
Little time is needed to take the medication, but treatment might be ongoing.
Cost
$0-30
The cost varies depending on the strength of the drug used and how often it’s taken.

What are stimulants?

Stimulants are drugs that temporarily increase mental or physical function or both. Some stimulants commonly prescribed for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) are dexamphetamine and methylphenidate – for example, Ritalin, Attenta and Concerta.

Who are stimulants for?

Stimulants can be prescribed to people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This can include children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

What are stimulants used for?

Stimulants are used to improve difficulties with attention, impulsivity and hyperactivity.

Where do stimulants come from?

Stimulant medications have been around for over 50 years. They’ve been used to reduce impulsivity, hyperactivity and inattention in children with ADHD since the 1980s.

What is the idea behind stimulants?

Stimulant medications increase levels of a brain chemical called dopamine. Increased dopamine levels can help control impulsivity, hyperactivity and inattention. The effects of stimulants can include enhanced alertness, wakefulness and energy.

What does using stimulants involve?

This therapy involves taking oral medication on a daily basis. The specific medication and dosage depends on each child’s symptoms.

A specialist medical practitioner, like a child psychiatrist or paediatrician, should monitor the child taking the medication. The child needs regular appointments with this health professional.

Cost considerations

The cost of this therapy varies depending 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 stimulants work?

This therapy has not yet been rated.

Stimulants can have side effects. The most frequently reported side effects are decreased appetite and sleep disturbance. Occasionally, children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can become very irritable or withdrawn, or they can develop tics or repetitive movements like arm waving.

Who practises this method?

In Australia, stimulant medications can be prescribed only by paediatricians, child psychiatrists or neurologists. In certain situations, GPs can also prescribe stimulants.

These professionals can give you more information on the potential benefits and risks of stimulant medication.

Parent education, training, support and involvement

If your child with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is taking stimulants, you need 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?

Ask your child’s GP for a referral to a paediatrician or child psychiatrist who specialises in working with children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

You can find a child psychiatrist by going to Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists – Find a psychiatrist.

You could also talk 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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