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Ritalin is a prescription drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1955 for treating attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). As many as 30 percent of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) also have problems with ADHD. Ritalin can help improve symptoms of ADHD in autistic children. Ritalin is also known by its drug name, Methylphenidate hydrochloride.

Ritalin should not be used in children under the age of six. Ritalin is not appropriate for people with a history of glaucoma, Tourettes syndrome, or motor tics. Ritalin should not be used by pregnant women or people who suffer from anxiety or agitation. Ritalin should be used with caution in people with a history of heart problems, high blood pressure, aggression, drug abuse, seizures, bipolar disorder, or psychotic symptoms.

Ritalin is a stimulant. Ritalin is believed to work by changing the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain.

How do I take it?
Your doctor will likely begin your child on a low dose of Ritalin and increase the dosage gradually in order to avoid side effects. Your doctor should monitor your child’s growth periodically while they are taking Ritalin to ensure that the medication is not interfering with normal growth rates. Your doctor may order periodic blood tests while your child is on Ritalin.

Ritalin is taken orally two or three times a day. Ritalin is most effective when it is taken 30 to 45 minutes before meals; however, it can be taken with food if it causes stomach upset. Ritalin may cause insomnia if taken late in the day.

Always follow your doctor’s instructions exactly when taking Ritalin.

A study published in 2008 followed 124 children and adolescents under age 21 who met criteria for autism spectrum disorders. Of the 398 episodes of stimulant treatment, 69.4 percent were associated with favorable responses. Researchers concluded that stimulants were effective for treating hyperactivity, impulsivity, disinhibition, and inattention.

A study published in 2006 confirmed the finding of previous small studies that stimulants are equally beneficial for children with both autism and ADHD as they are for children with ADHD only.

Side effects
Stimulants have caused sudden death in children and adolescents with heart defects and other cardiovascular problems. Ritalin may interfere with growth in children. Stimulants have caused heart attacks, strokes and high blood pressure in adults.

Common side effects of Ritalin can include dizziness, loss of appetite, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain or upset, headache, diarrhea, nervousness, restlessness, and insomnia.

Notify your doctor if you experience rapid heartbeat, tremors, convulsions, vision changes, sudden loss of consciousness, black or tarry stools, skin numbness or color change, mood swings, or priapism (painful or prolonged erection) in boys or men while taking Ritalin.

Seek immediate medical help if you experience seizures, pain in your chest or left arm, unusual sweating, shortness of breath, slurring of speech, weakness on one side of the body, or confusion while taking Ritalin.

Many drugs can cause allergic reactions that, in the most serious cases, can result in death. Seek immediate medical help if you experience signs of a severe allergic reaction such as difficulty breathing or swelling in the face, throat, eyes, lips or tongue.

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