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This post will discuss what is Risperdal used for, it’s effectiveness in minimizing Autism symptoms and the various mild to serious Risperdal side effects in children with Autism. Before you read this, we would strongly recommend that you refer to our Autism Medication Parent’s Guide

The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of Risperdal for the symptomatic treatment of irritability in both children and teens with autism spectrum disorders. This is the first FDA-approved drug treatment for behaviors associated with autism.

This is not a breakthrough of a new medication as Risperdal has been used under generic names (like risperidone) for years to treat children on the autism spectrum with a co-existing bipolar diagnosis.


what is risperdal used for

Fig 1: What is Risperdal used for? Read on

What Is Risperdal Used For?

Risperdal is an atypical antipsychotic medication that was originally approved for the treatment of schizophrenia and manic episodes in adults in conjunction with bipolar issues. Abilify, Geodon, Clozaril, Seroquel, and Zyprexa may be more familiar names to you. Along with Risperdal, these medications have been shown to improve behavioral, aggressive, oppositional and hyperactivity symptoms in children with psychiatric problems other than schizophrenia.

The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reassured parents and physicians that the use of Risperdal is safe and effective in treating problems like aggression, s, lf-injury, mood swings and temper tantrums in people with autism. They have also noted that risperidone is the generic form of Risperdal and has the same uses, dosages, and side effects.

Note: Risperdal children usage is only approved by the FDA for autistic children between the ages of five and sixteen.

Effectivity of Risperdal in Children

Risperdal Children Side Effects

Fig 2: It is important to get the facts about Risperdal for Autism

Medications like Risperdal are considered to be “strong”. Parents often see a dramatic improvement in their child’s behavior after taking Risperdal. This is especially noticeable in families where the child is abusive to siblings, self-abusive or with frequent mood swings. For these reasons, parents might be keen to try Risperdal, at the advice of their physician, even though there might be a few side effects of Risperdal in Children.


Risperdal Children Side Effects

Some of the Risperdal side effects in children are pretty well known. It is between you, the parent, and your physician to decide if the benefits outweigh the risks. The good news is that 7 out of 10 children taking Risperdal have significantly improved their aggression and behavior.

Impact of Risperdal on Neurotransmitters

risperdal side effects in children

Fig 3: Risperdal side effects in children may be caused by imbalance of Neurotransmitters

Risperdal works by calming down brain activity. It blocks certain neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. Having too much serotonin and/or dopamine in the brain causes tantrums, aggression, self-injury and overall behavioral issues. You may notice your child is more sensitive to temperature and temperature changes. One of the side effects of taking Risperdal is you can become overheated or dehydrated very easily. Make sure your child drinks lots of water and other fluids and wears clothing appropriate for the weather.

Mild to Moderate Risperdal Side Effects in Children

Here is a list of less serious or moderate side effects of Risperdal in Children:

  • Feeling excessively hot or cold
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Problems falling asleep and staying asleep
  • Cough
  • Mild to moderate skin rashes, mainly on the trunk of the body (discussed below)
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Headache
  • Feeling drowsy
  • Increased appetite
  • Restlessness
  • Sore throat
  • Stomach pain not associated with any other symptom
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Occasional lapses in concentration

The most common side effects are drowsiness, constipation and weight gain. Drowsiness during the day leads to inappropriate sleep patterns at night which, in turn, then leads to behavior problems during the day. If you notice your child is not sleeping at night and tired during the day, call your physician as the dosage or time of day the medication is taken may need to be changed.

You should keep a list of any side effects, even these that seem to be minor. Discuss them with your physician so that these minor side effects can be noted in your child’s record and used as a baseline to determine if Risperdal is the correct medication for your child. One side effect may seem insignificant however it is very important to note any weight gain and report it to your physician. Children taking this medication have been known to gain six to eight pounds in the first eight weeks of taking Risperdal.

Common Risperdal Children Allergic Reactions

There can be some minor to significant allergic reactions to Risperdal and/or any of its generic forms. Continued medication in spite of these allergic symptoms may lead to adverse side effects. Any of the following allergic reactions should be reported to your physician immediately and, depending on its severity, you should seek immediate medical attention:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hives
    • Hives are raised, often itchy, red welts on the surface of the skin. They are usually an allergic reaction to food or medicine.
  • Welling of face, lips, tongue or throat
  • Fast or uneven heartbeat
  • Excessive sweating and light-headedness
  • Uncontrollable shaking

Some Adverse Side Effects of Risperdal in Children

There are also some serious side effects that may occur. Should one of these side effects emerge DISCONTINUE/STOP taking Risperdal and call your doctor immediately. Do not take the medicine before your physician inspects your child. In case, you observe any of the symptoms marked in red, rush to the hospital or get in touch with your country’s emergency helpline. Click here to find the full list of worldwide emergency numbers.

Tremors, uncontrollable shaking that will not stop
Convulsions or seizures
Confusion and disorientation
Fast or irregular pounding heartbeat
Uncontrolled nosebleeds
Flu like symptoms
Trouble swallowing
Penis erection that lasts for more than four hours and is painful
White patches or sores inside your mouth or on your lips
Restless muscle movements of your eyes, tongue or mouth

Long-Term Side Effects of Risperdal in Children

Risperdal is also known to have a few long-term side effects. However, these could be avoided through regular check-ups and precautionary measures. You will probably not notice these effects right away but will need to monitor (initially weekly, later once every 3 months) when you first start taking Risperdal. These are:

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Breast growth (applicable only for teenage boys)
breast growth in teens is a common long terms side effect of risperdal

Fig 4: Breast growth in teenage boys is a common long terms side effect of Risperdal

Over prolonged use, your child may have severe headaches which could indicate both high blood pressure or diabetes. He or she may feel like fainting, which again could be either high blood pressure or diabetes. Both conditions need to be tested and diagnosed by a physician. Though serious, they can be easily managed by your doctor but YOU need to report it immediately for an evaluation.

Note: The above list covers the most commonly known side effects of Risperdal in children only, and it’s not necessarily an exhaustive list. Exercise caution while administering the doses and follow guidelines set by your physician in order to benefit the most out of this drug. Also, there are additional side effects of Risperdal in adults (especially men) but they have not been covered in this article since Risperdal for Autism is only approved for children between 5 to 16 years of age.

Other Risperdal Children Side Effects

Just like any other medication, alcohol can increase some of these side effects. You may argue that this post is dedicated on what is Risperdal used for in children and alcohol use for kids is prohibited by law. But hey, we use alcohol in food too; especially in desserts like Tiramisu, black forest cake or Christmas pudding. Your child’s thought process and reaction time may also be affected by taking Risperdal over a period of time.

Should I Use Risperdal for my Child?

I am glad you asked! So, in spite of so many side effects, why should the doctor recommend Risperdal for my child? You may be asking yourself, should I put the overall well being of my child at risk by subjecting him/her to Risperdal? Well, the answer is yes and no.

To be honest, I am not a big fan of medication for Autism. If your child is borderline autistic, or has some form of high functioning autism syndrome, then the risk may not outweigh the benefits. The same applies for tertiary ASD syndromes like ADHD / Sensory Integration Disorder or Oppositional Defiant Disorders. In these cases, and almost certainly in most other scenarios, behavior therapy would be the best approach to start with.

Having said that, often the behavior of a child with severe or classical autism may spiral out of control – to an extent that they may harm themselves or others in close proximity. Under these circumstances, Risperdal is a very potent medication and in most cases the side effects (if they have any) may still be well worth the risk as this medication (if used as prescribed by your physician) promises significant improvement in aggression control and social behavior.

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