Autism and Medication Part 1 – Can Medication Help My Child with Autism?

drug therapy for autismWhen it comes to raising a child with autism, few topics are as controversial as medication. Message boards are filled with parents seeking answers. Will this medication help my child? What are the side effects? Has this medication been proven, or is it still experimental?

These message boards are also filled with parents and caregivers who espouse different approaches to using medication. Some are vehemently opposed to using any type of medication, while others are willing to try just about anything. Most fall somewhere in the middle, seeking an answer that will ease some of their child’s more difficult symptoms and make life easier for the entire family.

At Autism Daily Newscast, we are committed to helping parents make the best possible decisions for their children. This series of articles on medication is meant to be informative, and we do not intend to influence parents either way. The decision to medicate is one that should be taken very seriously, and should be between the parents and the child’s doctor. Our goal is to give parents current but general information about the types of medications that are available, along with their potential benefits and side effects, while exploring the reasons different parents may choose to medicate or not.

Many parents would be thrilled to find a pill that could erase the symptoms of autism. At this time, there is no such medication, though scientists are working on it. There are several medications, however, that can ease some of the more debilitating symptoms of autism, such as seizures, anxiety, hyperactivity and aggression. In some cases, using medication to treat one of these symptoms allows the child to become more receptive to other therapies meant to treat other challenges faced by people with autism.

The main categories of drugs commonly prescribed for autism are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and antipsychotics. SSRIs such as Prozac can ease symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and obsessive stereotypical behaviors. They may also improve language, socialization, general behavior, and learning, though this may be due to the patient feeling less anxious and more able to self-regulate and benefit from other therapies. Side effects can include weight gain, insomnia, and increased agitation.

Antipsychotic medications like Risperdal work by changing the effects of brain chemicals. They may help with aggression and self-injurious behaviors. Side effects include sleepiness, tremors, and weight gain.

Some stimulant drugs such as Ritalin have been shown to decrease impulsivity and hyperactivity. Anticonvulsants such as Depakote have been used to treat seizures, which are common in children with autism, and can affect a child’s overall health and physical safety.

Over the next few weeks we will follow up with articles that look at the most commonly prescribed medications in greater detail, along with the potential benefits and side effects. We will also explore reasons why parents choose to medicate, or not to medicate. Finally we will explore some medications that are not yet common in the field of autism, but that are showing promise in research labs and clinical trials.

In future articles we will open up the comment section so that our readers may share their own experiences.

Part 2 in our series continues tomorrow on the topic of SSRIs