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Catatonia in Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Diagnostic, Therapeutic, and Scientific Conundrum

Saturday, 4 May 2013: 09:00-13:00
Banquet Hall (Kursaal Centre)
D. M. Dhossche, University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson, MS
Background:  Catatonia has been associated with intractable aggression, stereotypy, and self-injury in patients with autism spectrum disorders, and represents a diagnostic, therapeutic, and scientific conundrum in this population

Objectives:  To review the literature on diagnosis, treatment, and risk factors of catatonia in autism spectrum disorders. 

Methods:  Literature review and review of case-reports

Results: Recent studies document catatonia as a comorbid syndrome at a rate of 12-17% in adolescents and young adults with autism spectrum disorders. Lacking controlled trials, benzodiazepines and ECT have been administered safely in case-reports and case-series, sometimes with remarkable and lasting improvements. Barriers to increase this topic’s visibility are its novelty in the field of autism spectrum disorders, the lack of independence of catatonia as a separate syndrome in psychiatric classification, and the stigma surrounding the use of benzodiazepines and electroconvulsive therapy, the medical treatments that seem most effective in catatonia 

Conclusions:  There have been  advances during the last ten years in demarcating catatonia as a treatable condition in autism spectrum disorders and as a distinct scientific field of inquiry, yet the condition remains poorly recognized and studied. Further study of catatonia in autism spectrum disorders may provide new diagnostic, therapeutic, and scientific opportunities.

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