Majority of Preschoolers on Psychotropic Drugs do not Receive Behavioral Therapy

April 05, 2021

Almost Half Under Age Three When Medication Started

The Journal of Pediatrics recently published an online study that examined the use of psychotropic medication in preschool children diagnosed with autism. This new study had several different objectives. First, it sought to discover the percentage of preschoolers that used psychotropic medication to manage their symptoms of autism. Second, the study aimed to examine geographic factors associated with use of psychotropic drugs. Lastly, and most important, the main objective of the research was to find out how many children on psychotropic drugs did or did not receive behavior therapy. To find answers to these questions, the researchers implemented a multisite case-controlled study for children at risk for an autism diagnosis. The children included in this research were aged 2-5. Their data was collected from 2012-2016. If a child was eventually diagnosed with autism, their caregivers completed a Services and Treatments Questionnaire and multiple self-administered questionnaires which determined the use of psychotropic drugs, gave a history of behavior therapy, and provided information on co-occurring symptoms. In the end, 763 children were diagnosed with autism and had data collected on their case. Only 8.1% of the study’s children used psychotropic drugs to manage behavioral symptoms. Of those children, 3.7% were 3 years or under when the medication was first started. Attention problems and study sites were the leading reasons for medication use. Surprisingly, 59.7% of those who used psychotropic drugs did not ever receive behavior therapy. The study’s authors were concerned by this finding and by the near abandonment of behavior therapy for the majority of preschoolers on medication. They concluded their research by making the important point that pediatricians can help facilitate behavioral treatment for children with autism. 

Original Study Abstract

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