Is it possible medication could control the symptoms of autism? I ask because the latest episode of the the Autism Science Foundation podcast about this topic was disturbing. The podcast shares the latest in autism research, each week. Before I start talking about the research findings, let me be clear, the terrible information contained within the podcast, is not indicative of the quality of the podcast, or its host. That said, here is the online summary:
This week’s podcast summarizes recent evidence on why there is good and bad in treating autism with medication, but there is also lots of ugly. While new medications are being developed and researchers are looking into new ways of measuring change across time time, medications are not effective in treating the core symptoms of autism and they have pretty harsh side effects which, you guessed it, are dealt with by prescribing more medications. There are a lot of reasons to be hopeful about the future of medication use in autism, but lots of reasons to feel frustrated too.
I’m knee deep in ADHD Awareness Month, a month that should be changed to ADHD Acceptance Month…except that the objective of acceptance is nearly impossible when it comes to neurodivergent conditions like autism and ADHD.
I share the podcast because it reviews legit, valid research and what the data shows in terms of efficacy. While I don’t in theory oppose running clinical trials on medication for autism, I am skeptical that it could ever be effective.
What the What: Drugs for Autistic Kids
First, the podcast goes over giving ADHD medicine to kids with autism. Part of the reason ADHD medicine is so heavily controlled is that it is an addictive drug if you’re not using it for ADHD. We lucky ADHD folks don’t get high, we get focused, at least in theory. In reality, as I shared, previously, it works a little but is no miracle for us by any stretch of the imagination. It has a lot of side effects too.
The thought of autistic kids taking this medication which hardly works at all for ADHD, for autism which is a completely separate condition, is heartbreaking. And the data shows it doesn’t work. Now, other medications other than ADHD medicine were discussed, but some had side effects like enormous weight gain. Also really not OK, especially for kids.
But the Children Consented, Right?
The podcast talks about the research being patient-centered, but then unfortunately goes on to say it was the family who reported back whether or not the medication was working. I understand that the vast majority of the time, the family has the autistic child’s best interest at heart, and when checking for effectiveness in many medications given to kids, the family’s report is part of the evaluation. Still, that means the autistic children did not consent. I get it. They may not have been able to give consent. But that still is very hard to hear. I suspect most autism parents would agree that the idea of medication being more useful than various therapies to teach gross and fine motor skills, or speech, doesn’t pass the smell test.
Perhaps one day, there will be a medication for autism, but I hope that the clinical trials are done on autistic adults who can consent before it is tried on autistic children. Instead of determining what autism-related traits autistics want to change, it seems like the latest research I discuss above was giving medication based on an educated guess.