An antidepressant commonly prescribed to minimize repetitive behaviors in children with autism does not work, according to a study published in the June issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Citalopram, sold under the name Celexa, is among a class of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which are commonly used among people with autism even though they are not approved for this use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In a study of citalopram, a team led by Dr. Bryan King, of Seattle Children’s Hospital gave 73 kids with autism citalopram while 76 children with the disorder took a placebo for 12 weeks.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

In the end, researchers found that both groups exhibited similar levels of improvement in terms of repetitive behavior. But the children taking citalopram experienced significant side effects including, “increased energy level, impulsiveness, decreased concentration, hyperactivity, stereotypy (mechanical repetition of the same posture or movement), diarrhea, insomnia and dry skin or pruritis,” the authors write.

Not only do the results show that citalopram is ineffective for controlling repetitive behaviors in children with autism, but they indicate a need for further placebo-controlled trials of drugs being prescribed to kids with autism to determine whether or not the benefits outweigh the risks, the authors say.