The goal of this study was to examine rates of psychotropic medication use and identify associated child and family characteristics among children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) enrolled in an autism registry maintained by the Autism Treatment Network (ATN).
The sample, derived from the ATN registry, consists of 2853 children aged 2 to 17 years with diagnoses of ASD supported by Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, and the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule with available data on medication use. As part of initial enrollment in the registry, parents completed questionnaires on current psychotropic medication use, psychiatric and medical conditions, and demographics.
Of the 2853 children, 763 (27%) were taking ≥1 psychotropic medication; 15% were prescribed 1 medication, 7.4% received 2 medications, and 4.5% received ≥3. Among children aged 3 to 5 years, 11% were taking ≥1 psychotropic medication; among 6-to 11-year-old children, 46%; and 66% of adolescents aged 12 to 17 years were taking at ≥1 psychotropic medication. A parent report of comorbid diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, or anxiety was associated with a high rate of use, with 80% receiving ≥1 psychotropic medication. Only 15% of children with no comorbid psychiatric disorder were taking psychotropic medication. Psychotropic medication use was also related to sleep and gastrointestinal problems.
The prescription of psychotropic medications in this registry sample is highly related to comorbid psychiatric disorder. Other factors associated with use include medical comorbidities, race, ethnicity, and older age. Pediatrics 2012;130:S69—S76.