Pharmacotherapy of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder in individuals with autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review of the literature

Gagan Joshi, Timothy Wilens, Elizabeth S. Firmin, Barbora Hoskova, Joseph Biederman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Aim: To assess the empirical evidence for the treatment of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in populations with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Methods: A systemic PubMed, PsychINFO, Embase, and Medline database search of peer-reviewed literature was conducted. Included in the review were controlled trials published in English with sample sizes ⩾10 participants examining the safety and efficacy of anti-ADHD medication in ASD populations. Data was extracted on relevant variables of study design, demographics, associated psychopathology, medication dose, efficacy, and tolerability. Results: Nine controlled trials met the inclusion and exclusion criteria: five with methylphenidate, three with atomoxetine, and one with guanfacine. Sample sizes ranged from 10 to 128 with 430 children participating across all the trials. In all the trials, treatment response was significantly superior to placebo. However, almost all trials assessed only hyperactivity, and most included only participants with intellectual disability with high levels of irritability. None of the trials distinguished agitation from hyperactivity. The response on hyperactivity for methylphenidate and atomoxetine was less than that observed in the neurotypical population; however, the response for guanfacine surpassed results observed in neurotypical populations. Treatment-emergent mood lability (i.e. mood dysregulation and mood-related adverse events) was frequently associated with methylphenidate and guanfacine treatments. Worse treatment outcomes were associated with individuals with lower intellectual capability compared with those with higher IQs. Conclusions: here is a scarcity of controlled trials examining ADHD treatments in ASD populations, particularly in intellectually capable individuals with ASD and in adults. Response to ADHD medications in ASD were adversely moderated by the presence of intellectual disability and mood lability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)203-210
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Psychopharmacology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • ADHD
  • ASD
  • treatment


Dive into the research topics of 'Pharmacotherapy of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder in individuals with autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review of the literature'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this