This site is intended for health professionals only

SSRIs useless for autistic children


No evidence exists that anti-depressants help children with autism and they should not be prescribed to them, an analysis of past research has concluded.

The drugs, known as SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors), are often given to people with the disorder but clinical trials have consistently shown that the drugs are of no benefit to autistic children and are of very limited use to autistic adults.

The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews reported the analysis, fuelling widespread doubts about the use of anti-depressants to treat autism.

For example, the citalopram SSRI (Celexa) was last year found to be no better than a placebo at helping autistic children change repetitive behaviour, according to research funded by the US government.

The new analysis evaluated these findings alongside the findings of six other published clinical trials. No evidence was found that SSRIs were better than placebos at helping autistic children with any of their symptoms.

Lead analyser Katrina Williams, a paediatrician at the University of New South Wales and Sydney Children’s Hospital, Australia, said children with autism should not be given SSRIs.

The US Food and Drug Administration has approved three SSRIs for over-sevens: sertraline (Zoloft), fluoxetine (Prozac) and fluvoxamine (Luvox).

Copyright Press Association 2010

Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews

Be in the know
Subscribe to Hospital Pharmacy Europe newsletter and magazine