By Sanjay Shah
Receiving an autism diagnosis is like having the rug pulled out from under your family. In an instant, it changes everything.
Determining what to do next is a momentous task. Rather than review everything that needs to be done to ensure that your child receives proper treatment, we’ll focus here on one specific consideration that you’ll eventually need to face: medications to treat autism.
For many children and adults with autism spectrum disorder, but certainly not all, medications play an important role in treatment and modulation.
‘It’s important to remember that there’s no ‘cure’ for autism, nor any wonder drug or cocktail that can drastically shift the equation at home or in school.’ – Sanjay Shah
Before beginning a medication regimen, approach your autism specialist or GP with a list of prepared questions about what it’s likely to entail. Though this nine-question set is by no means comprehensive, it’s a good indication of the sorts of queries you should ask during your limited time in the examination room.
What Symptoms Are Autism Medications Equipped to Treat?
Different medications have different indications, of course. If your provider recommends a specific medication or combination of medications, ask them on the spot which autism symptoms they’re intended to treat.
What Medications Might Help With My Child’s Specific Symptom Set?
If your provider does not recommend specific medications, and you’re interested in pursuing medical treatment, ask for a list of options to treat the symptoms your child is experiencing.
Are Any Tests Required Before My Child Begins Treatment?
Some medications require blood tests before treatment begins. Others require blood tests after the regimen commences. Make sure you know which are which. If there’s a suitable alternative that doesn’t require testing and has been shown to mitigate symptoms in similar fashion, it may be a better fit for your child.
What Are the Potential Side Effects?
This is an important question to ask before beginning any course of treatment. Some medications indicated for autism symptoms have well-known, deleterious side effects that may negatively impact quality of life or patient health. Ask about possible drug interactions as well: if your child is taking other medications, regardless of their indication, the risk of harmful interactions is real.
How Long Does It Take for Pharmacological Treatment to Produce Results?
This is a crucial expectation-setter. No autism treatment medication produces results overnight, and some can take weeks or even months to reach full efficacy. Know how long you’ll need to watch your child before reaching a determination regarding the medicine’s effectiveness.
Does My Child’s School or Caregiver Need to Know About the Medication?
If the medicine needs to be taken during the daytime or at regular intervals throughout the day, the answer to this question is likely to be ‘yes.’
How Can I Encourage My Child to Take the Medication?
It’s natural for autism-affected children to resist medicine regimens, particularly when the delivery method is unpleasant. Your GP will no doubt have thoughts on how to break through this resistance.
Can the Regimen Be Stopped in the Event of Undesirable Effects?
It’s not always safe to stop taking a medication without first consulting a physician. Your GP will know whether a given medication’s dose needs to be stepped down.
Do Other Options Exist / What Else Should We Do for Our Child?
Medication by itself is not a complete answer to autism. Cognitive behavioural therapies and other non-pharmacological treatments play an important role for most autism-affected individuals — in many cases, a greater role than the drugs themselves.
Your Journey Is Personal
Your family’s autism treatment journey is entirely personal.
No matter what symptoms your child exhibits or how they affect his or her quality of life, it’s crucial that the treatment decisions you make as a family put his or her best interests at heart. By all means, listen to the advice of trusted friends and colleagues who’ve also been touched by autism. Weigh carefully the evidence-based advice of your child’s medical team. Use the vast resources available from legitimate autism-support organisations to inform your choice.
But, at the end of it all, the choice is your family’s and your family’s alone. Don’t ever let yourself be pressured or cajoled into taking a course of action that’s adverse to your child’s interest. Your family’s well-being is too important for that.
Bio: Sanjay Shah the founder of Autism Rocks, a charitable organisation that raises awareness about autism through charitable music events