Methylphenidate and Autism Ranking: Mildly Hazardous Strong positive evidence


Methylphenidate is a form of medication known as a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant.  It is also known as methylphenidylacetate hydrochloride or MPH.

Methylphenidate is sold under various brand names including Concerta, Delmosart, Ritalin and Xaggitin.

Methylphenidate is believed to work by increasing the amount of dopamine, a natural chemical, found in the brain. Increasing the amount of dopamine is believed to improve self-control, attention and concentration.

Methylphenidate is commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), although it is also sometimes used to treat narcolepsy.

Some people believe that methylphenidate can be used with some autistic individuals to reduce problem behaviours, such as hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention.

Our Opinion

There is a limited amount of research evidence (10 group studies and eight case design studies with three or more participants) into the use of methylphenidate as an intervention for autistic people.

This research suggests that methylphenidate may be beneficial for the treatment of hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention in some autistic children and young people.

There is almost no research evidence to suggest that methylphenidate may be useful for the treatment of autistic adults.

There is evidence of significant side effects of methylphenidate in some individuals. Those side effects may include insomnia, nervousness, headache, decreased appetite, abdominal pain and other gastrointestinal symptoms, and cardiovascular effects such as tachycardia, palpitations and minor increases in blood pressure.

Further, large scale, double blind, randomised controlled trials of the effects of methylphenidate should be carried out on autistic individuals to determine their effectiveness and safety.  These studies should investigate issues such as

  • The optimal dosage and length of treatment for different autistic individuals.
  • The efficacy and tolerability of extended-release versus immediate-release formulations.
  • Comparison of methylphenidate with other central nervous system stimulants, such as dextroamphetamine, and with non-stimulants, such as atomoxetine and guanfacine.

We believe that methylphenidate should only be used as part of a comprehensive treatment programme for ADHD, under specialist supervision, where remedial measures alone prove insufficient.

Methylphenidate should be discontinued if there is no response after 1 month, and treatment should be suspended periodically to assess the child's condition


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17 Jun 2022
Last Review
01 Dec 2018
Next Review
01 Sep 2024