Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects 3%–5% of typical school-age children. However, considerably higher rates of ADHD (15%–25%) are observed in children with intellectual disability and autism. Studies of psychostimulants in the latter two populations have found poorer response rates compared to typically developing children. In addition, evidence suggests that children with developmental disabilities experience higher rates of adverse events. Guanfacine, an α2-adrenergic receptor agonist, has shown some promise as an alternative to psychostimulants.
The present study involved a double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover trial of guanfacine in 11 children (ages 5–9 years) with developmental disabilities and symptoms of inattention/overactivity. The 6-week trial involved a maximum dose of 3 mg/day of guanfacine.
Significant benefits were observed on the Hyperactivity subscale of the parent and teacher Aberrant Behavior Checklist (ABC) and Global Improvement Ratings. No gains were noted on other ABC subscales. Five of the 11 subjects (45%) were judged to be responders based on a 50% decrease in the ABC Hyperactivity subscale score between the placebo and guanfacine conditions. Several side effects were reported, including drowsiness and irritability.
While guanfacine appears to be an alternative to psychostimulants among children with developmental disabilities, clinicians need to remain vigilant to the possibility of side effects.