Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors and Autism Spectrum Disorders

By Marlena N. Smith

In a recent review, Williams, Wheeler, Silove, and Hazel did not find selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) to benefit children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). SSRIs, a common type of antidepressant, are often prescribed to persons with ASD. Williams et al. reviewed research studies exploring the use of SSRIs for ASD treatment.

Literature searches were conducted for randomized controlled trails comparing the use of SSRIs to placebo in participants with ASD. Seven relevant studies were identified. The studies included a total of 271 participants with ASD. Five studies included children, ages 3 to 13 years, and the remaining two studies included adults, ages 18 to 53 years. The studies evaluated various SSRIs including fluoxetine, fluvoxamine, fenfluramine, and citalopram.

Findings did not support the use of SSRIs in children with ASD. While SSRIs did demonstrate some beneficial effects on adults with ASD (e.g., improvements in compulsive behavior, anxiety, and aggression), research in this area is extremely limited.

Although SSRIs are commonly prescribed to persons with ASD, research evaluating the use of SSRIs for ASD treatment is lacking. Available research does not support the use of SSRIs in children with ASD. While SSRIs may be beneficial to adults with ASD, far more research is needed.


Williams, K., Wheeler, D. M., Silove, N., & Hazel, P. (2010). Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors(SSRIs) for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) (review). The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 8. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD004677.pub2.

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