Is clonidine for autism an effective treatment for people on the spectrum? In some cases, the medication can yield great results, but it isn't for everyone.
What Is Clonidine?
According to PubMed from the U.S. National Library of Medicine, clonidine is a medication that is effective in treating high blood pressure. The medicine works by slowing the patient's heart rate and relaxing the blood vessels.
What could a high blood pressure medication do for people with autistic disorders? The prescription drug does have some "off label" uses, and doctors may prescribe it to treat:
- Severe menstrual cramps
- Tourette's syndrome
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Narcotic or alcohol withdrawal
- Anxiety disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Smoking cessation
Clonidine for Autism
Using clonidine for autism spectrum disorders may be helpful in treating some of the symptoms associated with the spectrum. The off-label uses of the drug indicate that it may be effective in treating stress and anxiety, which can be problematic in cases of autism. Other uses include:
- Stereotyped repetitive movements
- Ritualistic behaviors
- Severe sensory issues
- Impulsive and aggressive behaviors
Clonidine appears to have sedative properties that can be helpful in calming and organizing behavior. Studies have found clonidine to be effective in treating individuals who have tics and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This is promising for families dealing with aggressive or impulsive behaviors as well as repetitive movements the autistic individual seems unable to control.
Sleep Problems and Behavioral Issues
Parents of autistic children are often far too familiar with sleep problems associated with pervasive developmental disorders. Sleep disturbances and irregular sleep-wake patterns can be exhausting. A study from the New Jersey Medical School's Department of Neuroscience and Pediatrics found that clonidine can be effective in alleviating sleep problems in children with autism.
The study found other uses for clonidine for treating autistic disorders in addition to sleep problems. It found that the medication was effective in improving attention, hyperactivity, aggressive behaviors and moodiness.
People interested in learning more about clonidine for autism should consider its side effects, which can be significant. While many people take the medication without experiencing serious side effects, some problems have been reported. The most common side effect found in treating ADHD in children is drowsiness. Other side effects include but are not limited to:
- Trouble sleeping
- Dry mouth
- Mild skin irritation
- Low energy
Not everyone who takes clonidine experiences these problems, but they should be taken into consideration. In addition, severe reactions to the medication can occur. People taking clonidine should seek immediate medical attention if any of the following occur:
- Allergic reaction
- Blurred vision or other changes in vision
- Chest pain
- Irregular heart beat
- Severe changes in mood
- Swelling in hands, ankles or feet
- Severe headache that doesn't go away
- Severe dizziness
Severe side effects can be an indicator the medication is causing an allergic reaction or other serious medical problem.
Talk to Your Doctor
The medication has to be prescribed and it is important to research its uses, as well as the possible side effects, to prepare for a discussion with your physician. Like other medications used to treat autism, clonidine does not treat autistic disorders, but it can be helpful in treating symptoms associated with them.