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What Common Drug May Aid Memory for Autistic Kids?

What Common Drug May Aid Memory for Autistic Kids?A new study by University of Missouri investigators discovers that propranolol (Inderal), a drug commonly used to treat high blood pressure, anxiety and panic, may improve the working memory of individuals with autism and ultimately improve communication ability.

Prior research had determined that propranolol could improve the language abilities and social functioning of people with an ASD. Interpersonal skills are a profound challenge to those with  autism spectrum disorder (ASD) because they process language, facial expressions and social cues differently.

Working memory is the ability to hold and manipulate a small amount of information for a short period; it allows people to remember directions, complete puzzles and follow conversations. Neurologist Dr. David Beversdorf and research neuropsychologist Shawn Christ, Ph.D., found that propranolol improves the working memory performance of people with an ASD.

“Seeing a tiger might signal a fight or flight response. Nowadays, a stressor such as taking an exam could generate the same response, which is not helpful,” said Beversdorf.

“Propranolol works by calming those nervous responses, which is why some people benefit from taking the drug to reduce anxiety.”

In the study, propranolol increased working memory performance in a sample of 14 young adult patients with autism, but had little to no effect on a group of 13 study participants who do not have autism.

The researchers do not recommend that doctors prescribe propranolol solely to improve working memory in individuals with an autism spectrum disorder, but patients who already take the prescription drug might benefit.

“People with an autism spectrum disorder who are already being prescribed propranolol for a different reason, such as anxiety, might also see an improvement in working memory,” said Christ.

Future research will incorporate clinical trials to assess further the relationship between cognitive and behavioral functioning and connectivity among various regions of the brain.

The study has been published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.

Source: University of Missouri

What Common Drug May Aid Memory for Autistic Kids?

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). What Common Drug May Aid Memory for Autistic Kids?. Psych Central. Retrieved on January 19, 2019, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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