Research Shows Prozac Is No Better Than a Placebo in Treating Kids With Autism

treating children with prozac for autism
Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge

Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge

New research demonstrates what most already know that SSRI medications don’t move the dial for anxiety and obsessive-compulsive behaviors in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). 

Autism is on the rise across the globe and as of 2021 in the United States, 1 in 44 children have autism. The guidelines for autism took more than 12 years to be updated and were last updated in 2019.

Early intervention is critical in life outcomes in children with autism but diagnosis isn't standardized and autism occurs along a spectrum, so symptoms can be hard to identify. Many chose to medicate their children with autism , especially if they have co-occurring conditions such as ADHD and OCD because they aren't presented with other options. Unfortunately doctors aren't always knowledgeable about anything but medication and until a parent does their own Google research, don't know about other science-backed treatments.

Research On Autism Medication


The results of the randomized clinical trial, published October 22, 2019 in JAMA, found that a commonly prescribed SSRI medication for children and adolescents with autism, is no more effective than a placebo at treating obsessive-compulsive behaviors. 

Prozac is a commonly prescribed medication for kids and teens with autism. 


At first, the Prozac (fluoxetine) group appeared to show a slight lessening of obsessive-compulsive symptoms after the 16 weeks of treatment when compared with the placebo. However, after the researchers controlled for potentially confounding factors including age, sex and the severity of symptoms at the start of the trial, they found that there was no difference between the treatment and control groups. The group that received the Prozac did no better than the placebo and the obsessive-compulsive behaviors remained. In general, many children with ASD have anxiety and OCD symptoms. 

The results of this current 2019 research, which is a randomized clinical trial, added further support to 2004 research, 2008 research, 2009 research, 2019 research that found none to mixed results for pharmacological interventions for those with autism. The findings in this 146- participant study, are consistent with other research, which demonstrates the inconclusive efficacy of SSRIs for those with ASD at best.

The researchers noted, “Published reports indicate that more than half of children and adolescents with ASDs are prescribed medication, with 21% to 32% receiving selective serotonin receptor inhibitors (SSRIs) despite inconclusive evidence for their efficacy”

Autism and Medication 


So why is it still prescribed so much? Autism is a complex disorder with multiple reasons why it happens; none of which we really fully understand how these multiple factors interact and directly cause autism. Unfortunately, like so many disorders there is a constant push to find that magic pill that is going to fix it. We know that autism doesn’t result from a specific biochemical or genetic issue, so a different approach needs to be taken.

Parents need to know that they can reduce symptoms when they use evidence-based therapies, such as neurofeedback and exposure and response prevention psychotherapy (ERP) for OCD. You have to calm the brain and pair it with new learning and in the case of OCD, that means teaching a child with autism replacement behaviors for their fear driven obsessions and compulsions.

Remember, at the core of OCD is a fear of something bad happening if they don't complete a behavior and that means they have to unlearn that and learn a new, healthy way to respond to their fears and worries.  And children and teens with autism can do that with a combination of neurofeedback and ERPWhether in-person at our Ridgefield, CT center or virtually all over the world, we guide parents with the best of science-backed therapies that work to calm the brain. 

Our BrainBehaviorReset™ Program focuses on:

The pairing of science-backed therapies, such as neurofeedback, PEMF, biofeedback, and psychotherapy with support for the body has helped thousands of clients become calmer, more flexible, more focused, better able to communicate with others, and just feel more even in their mood.

Always remember… “Calm Brain, Happy Family™”

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to give health advice and it is recommended to consult with a physician before beginning any new wellness regime. 

Are you looking for SOLUTIONS for your struggling child or teen? 

Dr. Roseann and her team are all about solutions, so you are in the right place! 

There are 3 ways to work with Dr. Roseann: 

You can get her books for parents and professionals, including: It’s Gonna Be OK™: Proven Ways to Improve Your Child’s Mental Health, Teletherapy Toolkit™ and Brain Under Attack: A Resource For Parents and Caregivers of Children With PANS, PANDAS, and Autoimmune Encephalopathy.

If you are a business or organization that needs proactive guidance to support employee mental health or an organization looking for a brand representative, check out Dr. Roseann’s professional speaking page to see how we can work together. 

Dr. Roseann is a Children’s Mental Health Expert and Therapist who has been featured in/on hundreds of  media outlets including, CBS, NBC, FOX News, PIX11 NYC, The New York Times, The Washington Post,, Business Insider, USA Today, CNET, Marth Stewart, and PARENTS. FORBES called her, “A thought leader in children’s mental health.” 

She is the founder and director of The Global Institute of Children’s Mental Health and Dr. Roseann Capanna-Hodge. Dr. Roseann is a Board Certified Neurofeedback (BCN) Practitioner, a Board Member of the Northeast Region Biofeedback Society (NRBS), Certified Integrative Medicine Mental Health Provider (CMHIMP) and an Amen Clinic Certified Brain Health Coach.  She is also a member of The International Lyme Disease and Associated Disease Society (ILADS), The American Psychological Association (APA), Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) International Society for Neurofeedback and Research (ISNR) and The Association of Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback (AAPB).

© Roseann-Capanna-Hodge, LLC 2022

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