Autistic children usually manifest irritability and repetitive behaviors, but are there ways to manage them? Usual treatments for autism usually focus on the communication and social patterns of children, but rarely do they answer problems on repetitive tasks and irritability. Some caregivers actually are burned out due to these things that autistic children manifest and caregivers or parents will employ every measure to manage them.
Some parents and caregivers usually prevent anxiety to their autistic children in order to prevent irritability and repetitive behaviors, but they usually fail in doing this because autism generally causes these behaviors. Various treatments are available for autism, but new studies found other beneficial treatments for specific manifestations of autism.
Repetitive behaviors and irritability are present in up to 70% of children with autism. Repetitive behaviors generally include:
Stereotypy is the presence of repetitive movements such as head rolling, hand flapping, and body rocking.
Sameness is the phenomenon when autistic individuals resist change such as furniture should not be moved and others.
Autistic children also tend to be compulsive such as arranging toys in the same patterns.
Restriction involves being preoccupied with a single interest such as a toy, a TV program or a game.
Ritualistic behaviors include the same pattern of activities such as dressing rituals, same menus, bedtime rituals and the like.
Autistic individuals also have the tendency to injure self such as doing hand biting, skin picking, eye pocking or head banging.
The main concern of caregivers and psychiatrists regarding repetitive behaviors is self-injury that may be detrimental for the child. In addition, autistic children may also direct violence towards other children and people, which needs urgent management. Repetitive behaviors may not only lead to injury, but may also affect the activities of daily living and social patterns of children with autism.
In line with the irritability and anxiety of autistic children, a recent study published in the journal of Biological Psychiatry has revealed that a specific antioxidant may help reduce the irritability in autistic children. This antioxidant was found to be N-Acetylcysteine or NAC.
The study was conducted at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital by researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine. The study involved 31 children with autism from three to 12 years.
The study found that N-Acetylcysteine has beneficial results in autism such as reducing repetitive behaviors and irritably in children with the disorder.
Reducing the irritably and repetitive behaviors in autistic children is the main goal of researchers since the first line managements, which are antipsychotics tend to produce undesirable side-effects such as metabolic syndrome, involuntary motor movements and weight gaining. With the use of NAC, the side-effects are only mild which may include constipation, nausea and reduced appetite.
Furthermore, NAC was proven to manage other repetitive behaviors such as hand flapping and others that antipsychotics cannot eradicate. If NAC is proven to be safe and effective in autism, it becomes the first drug to possibly remove repetitive movements that involve the motor functioning of children.
However, NAC did not prove to be more effective than antipsychotics in terms of reducing irritability in children. Nevertheless, the use of NAC is still valuable before using major medications such as antipsychotics. Children with mild repetitive behaviors may also benefit more from NAC because of fewer side-effects.
The research is still an initial step on the use of NAC on the management of children of autism. Lager studies need to be conducted to evaluate the efficacy and the safety of NAC in autism.