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Ritalin may help with autism

Ritalin, a drug commonly given to children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, can help some autistic children with similar symptoms, researchers said on Monday.
/ Source: Reuters

A drug commonly given to children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can help some autistic children with similar symptoms, researchers said on Monday.

Methylphenidate, sold as Ritalin by Novartis AG, dominates the $2.2 billion market for drugs treating the symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder such as an inability to concentrate and impulsive behavior.

Autism affects between 3 percent and 7 percent of children, usually showing up between the ages of 3 and 5.

The Autism Society of America says about one out of every 250 babies born in the United States has the disability, which permanently impairs development of parts of the brain that control verbal and nonverbal communication as well as social interaction.

The stimulant, which has a calming effect on children with attention deficit disorder, was given in varying doses to 72 autistic children aged 5 to 14.

Roughly one out of six of the children developed intolerable side effects to varying dosages of the drug within between one and five weeks of treatment.

But of the 58 who completed the 13-week trial, 44 responded well to the drug and were less distracted, hyperactive and impulsive, study author Dr. David Posey of Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis said.

"At present, methylphenidate is a reasonable choice to target hyperactivity (in autistic children) with a response rate that approaches 50 percent," Posey wrote in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

"However, caregivers should be cautioned about the strong possibility of adverse effects."