When you first have children, the last thing on your mind is the idea that you might need to medicate them to make life easier for them, and for you, to cope.
But when your child gets an ASD diagnosis, that’s exactly what you’ll need to be thinking about.
For any parent, the decision to medicate their child after an ASD diagnosis is a tough one. And I mean really tough. You want to protect your children the best way you know how, but sometimes, this really does mean medicating them. Anyone who has gone through the process will tell you that it’s not made any easier by family and friends offering their ‘helpful advice’.
Over the years, as my husband and I attempted to figure out what was right for us and our son, we heard just about every supposedly useful comment you could think of. Some of the zingers (plus the responses I really wanted to give but didn’t) included:
1. “That medication will do more harm than good, chuck the whole lot of it out!”
Yes because I’ve obsessed over whether this is right for years and now that I’ve finally made this decision, I’m going to throw it all away just because you’ve told me to.
2. “Isn’t it just speed, you really want your child on speed?”
Are you a doctor? A pharmacist? I didn’t think you were, so don’t mind me if I totally ignore your completely wrong advice about medicine, thanks.
3. “Can’t you use food as medicine”
You’d be surprised, just because chocolate and wine works for you doesn’t mean I can feed it to my child. In fact, my ASD child rarely eats as part of his condition and needs medicine to actually GAIN weight!!!
4. “I thought medication for ADHD and ASD was dangerous”
Not as dangerous as you telling me that when you actually have no idea what you’re talking about.
5. “Won’t it turn your child into a drug addict?”
Yes because the medication that doctors prescribe to make it easier for my child to deal with a world that overwhelms him is actually an addictive psychotic. What do you think?
You name it, I’ve heard it all.
Here’s The Truth
Ignore the voices of the supposedly Good Samaritans and Google doctors, because I’m about to drop some truth on you right now. Conditions relating to the autism spectrum (ASD), attention deficit and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD, ADHD), and oppositional defiance disorder (ODD), can have some of the most challenging symptoms managed with medication.
Unfortunately, for both the children with these conditions and their parents, there remains a lot of stigmatism attached to medicating. This means that parents become quite scared of what people will say and do when they learn of your choice, and will incorrectly judge you based on their misguided assumptions. These judgements can be so anxiety-inducing and traumatic for parents, that many choose not to medicate at all, instead relying on regular counselling. Now, while I’m a big fan of counselling, and believe that it can have a markedly positive effect on ASD kids, our family needed something more. So I choose both.
Why I Medicate My Child
At the end of the day, my husband and I decided to medicate because it was incredibly difficult for us to see our child not being able to control his brain. Looking back, I can honestly say that I don’t regret the decision to medicate and believe that it’s made life easier not just for me as a parent, but for my child as well.
My paediatrician told us that when your child has ASD, it’s very easy for them to become socially isolated. This isn’t their fault, but it’s usually caused by behavioural differences that set them apart from their peers. The longer parents wait to address these issues, the more difficult it becomes to address that isolation, especially in a school environment. I didn’t want my child to miss out on making friends and enjoying the school environment simply because his ASD made him different from his peers. Now that he’s medicated, this is no longer the enormous issue that it was.
Obviously, the decision to medicate is a very personal one, but I think it’s important to share stories on both sides of the coin. We often hear about parents who’ve tackled their child’s ASD symptoms with specific diets, activities or approaches, and we applaud those parents for figuring out what was right for them. However, their approach is no less valid than ours simply because my family decided that the best approach was medication.
The Medications Available
There are numerous types of medications available to tackle various symptoms commonly associated with ASD and other conditions. We’ve made a list of some of the behaviours that ASD children struggle with, and some medications that you can talk to your GP about. This is just a starting point, and not intended to replace the professional medical advice of your doctor.
Do I Ever Regret It?
Hell no! In fact, I think it was the single BEST decision I have made for my son. At the end of the day, I know him best, I have weighed up the options and chosen to go down this road to make his life easier – not mine. He is happier, healthier, and most importantly, he is more incontrol of his brain.
Remember that each child is different, and there’s no exact recipe that works for everyone. If you do decide to medicate, you should be aware that it might take some time, even a year or more, for you and your doctor to figure out what the right combination is for your child.
Hyperactive Behaviour: Ritalin and Concerta.
Anxiety and Obsessional Behaviour: Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors, also known as SSRIs.
Tics: Clonidine and antipsychotics.
Aggression: Risperidone, a type of atypical antipsychotic.
Insomnia and Sleep Problems: Melatonin.
Seizures: Anti-epilepsy medication.