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NIMH Funds Research to Find Best Treatments for Children with Autism and ADHD Symptoms

Science Update

A new NIMH-funded study will help guide the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). ADHD symptoms are common in children with ASD, but children with ASD often do not respond well to stimulant medications, the conventional treatment for ADHD.

In this 10-week clinical trial, Benjamin Handen, Ph.D., of the University of Pittsburgh; Tristram Smith, Ph.D., of the University of Rochester; and Michael Aman, Ph.D., of the Ohio State University, and colleagues at the three sites will recruit 144 children ages 5–13 who have ASD with ADHD symptoms. The researchers will assess the safety and effectiveness of two treatments: (1) atomoxetine (also called Strattera), a nonstimulant medication for treating ADHD, and (2) parent management training (PMT), in which parents learn how to use behavioral interventions (another conventional ADHD treatment). Children will be randomly assigned to one of four treatment situations:

  • Atomoxetine with PMT
  • ATX without PMT
  • Placebo (a pill without active medicine) with PMT
  • Placebo without PMT

After the 10-week trial ends, the researchers will continue to follow all participants who respond favorably to treatment for six months to examine the safety, effectiveness and tolerability of long-term treatment.

Existing research on medication and behavioral treatments for children with ASD is sparse. The findings from this study will provide guidance for doctors and parents on the best treatment options for many children with ASD who also have symptoms of ADHD.