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Management of Symptoms in Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Comprehensive Review of Pharmacologic and Complementary-Alternative Medicine Treatments

Huffman, Lynne C. MD*; Sutcliffe, Trenna L. MD, MSc; Tanner, Ima S. D. BS; Feldman, Heidi M. MD, PhD*

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: January 2011 - Volume 32 - Issue 1 - p 56-68
doi: 10.1097/DBP.0b013e3182040acf
Review Article

In the care of children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), medical treatment is typically considered an adjunct to educational and behavioral interventions. Nonetheless, large proportions of children with ASD are managed medically and receive both pharmacologic and complementary-alternative medicine (CAM) treatments. Although many medical treatments have been studied in children with ASD, studies vary widely in terms of the sample, sample size, research design, purposes of treatment, and measurements of change. Surprisingly, comprehensive reviews of the options for medical management in ASD are lacking, particularly reviews that address both pharmacologic and CAM treatments. Furthermore, reviews to date tend to emphasize general effects of medication; this perspective contradicts medical practice, which targets particular symptoms during treatment selection and monitoring. This review of 115 studies adds to the ASD treatment literature by (1) including studies of individuals 0 to 22 years of age; (2) aggregating studies of pharmacologic treatments and CAM treatments; and importantly, (3) organizing treatment response by ASD symptoms, differentiating core and associated symptoms.


From the *Department of Pediatrics, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA; †Department of Pediatrics, Palo Alto Medical Foundation, Los Altos, CA; ‡University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, WI.

This article has supplementary material on the Web site:

Received May 2010; accepted September 2010.

This review was supported by the California Department of Developmental Services and by the Napa County Office of Education (SPO#37541).

Disclosure: Lynne Huffman has received research grant support from BioMarin Pharmaceutical. The rest of the authors have nothing to disclose.

Address for reprints: Lynne Huffman, MD, CHC, 650 Clark Way, Palo Alto, CA 94304; e-mail:

© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.