Aspergers and Medication: What Everybody Should Know

Aspergers Medication.  Psychiatry.

aspergers and medicationThe terms medication and psychiatry raise all sorts of questions. Parents are especially concerned about using psychiatric medication to treat their children. But adults may know relatives who had bad experiences with a certain psychiatrist in the past, or with a particular drug.

Why Medication for Aspergers?

I spent some time combing through forums and articles related to this topic, and found a combination of positive and negative responses to the subject of using psychiatric medication. And perhaps that best describes the overall feeling of the general public.

I’ve written a previous article about some mental health conditions that may accompany Asperger’s syndrome.

Every single person is different, but here is a partial list of conditions that may accompany autism spectrum conditions (after careful assessment and diagnosis by a qualified professional)

  • Attention Deficit Disorder
  • Seizures and epilepsy
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • Self-injurious behavior
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep Disorders
(Please note that these conditions should be carefully assessed and diagnosed.  Don’t assume that your child has these conditions.  On the other hand, don’t be shy about observing signs and symptoms if your child is struggling)

No medication “cures” autism spectrum disorders. However, medicine can help reduce the most acute emotional and/or behavioral symptoms.

Costs of Medication for Aspergers

Side Effects

Each medication can produce a number of side effects for children. Each child’s biology is different, and there is no easy way to know exactly how a medication will help or not help the child.

As a parent, you will experience stress if, such as your child is becoming even more hyper, or crying at the drop of the hat, or becoming even more rageful than normal.

Trial and Error

A child psychiatrist fortunately has the training and experience to most efficiently administer medication in a logical fashion to find the combination that will best work for your child. However, psychiatry is not an exact science.

Ideally, your child could give a DNA sample, or blood or tissue sample, and an advanced computer system would spit out the exact psychiatric medication for your particular child.

But it’s not that way.  Your doctor will have to try different medications.  Perhaps the first one will work perfectly. However, there are often at least a couple, and at most a few trials of medication.  And the waiting period, combined with your continued anxiety about giving your child medication, can cause a lot of stress.

Stick with it! If you are patient, you will find that your child will gain the benefits over the next few months.

Educate Yourself!

It’s helpful for you, as a parent or person, to separate myths from facts when it comes to medication.

Here is a helpful link to information about psychiatric medications from WebMD.

Psych Central also has a series of very helpful articles about psychiatric medications. (Look on the left side bar when you get there and you will see hyperlinks to topics like:  Introduction to Mental Health Medications, Questions to Ask Your Doctor, and Medication Safety.

I’m reading a helpful book from Dr. Timothy E. Wilens, called Straight Talk About Psychiatric Medications for Kids.  He is Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, specializing in pediatric and adult psycho-pharmacology.

Benefits of Medications for Aspergers

Again, don’t misunderstand me!  There is no ‘cure’ for Aspergers.  Nor am I sure I would want there to be a cure.

Rather, I am talking about some of the acute symptoms that can arise as a result of an Aspie child dealing with frustrations of an NT world.

Relief of Symptoms

When the doctor finds the right medication for your child, you will find that the most acute symptoms: meltdowns, intense anger, extreme hyperactivity, will subside.

Increased Ability to Learn

When those acute symptoms subside, your child can then learn better in school, in social skills groups, and in therapy.

More Peace at Home

And there will be more peace in your home.

Intensive Research and Regulation

In addition, most medications undergo rigorous research before they are released to the public. And the psychiatrist, if s/he is a quality doctor, will be board certified to prescribe those medications. Therefore, there are a number of checks and balances in place to make sure that your child is receiving the safest medication for her/his needs.

Guidelines for Medication for the Autism Spectrum from Temple Grandin

I found these guidelines from Temple Grandin at Autism Today.

Try the non-drug approaches first. (Actually, this is my guideline, but one that Dr. Grandin advocates as well).

  1. Try one medication at a time so you can judge its effect. Do not change educational programs or diet at the same time a new drug is tried. Keeping a journal of the child’s behaviors, demeanor and levels of activity can be helpful in spotting side effects and/or assessing the degree of improvement, if any.
  2. An effective medication should have an OBVIOUS beneficial effect. Giving a child a powerful drug that renders him only slightly less hyper would probably not be worth the risk.
  3. Antidepressants (both SSRIs – serotonin selective reuptake inhibitors – such as Prozac and older tricyclics) and atypical antipsychotic drugs such as Risperdol should be given at lower doses to people on the spectrum than to the general population. Some people with ASD need only one-quarter to one-half of the normal starter dose. Many problems with antidepressants are caused by giving too high a dose: insomnia and agitation are two such examples.
  4. If an individual has been on a medication that is working really well, it is usually not worth the risk to change it for a newer medication. Newer is not always better.

Guidelines for Working with Your Psychiatrist

First, make sure that you do work with a board certified child psychiatrist who is familiar with autism spectrum conditions.

I say this because, too often, parents are leery of psychiatry.  They therefore go to their pediatrician.  This is fine, but your pediatrician does not specialize in child psychiatry!  Just as you would want a heart specialist for your heart condition, or a rheumatologist for your arthritis condition, so you will want a medical doctor who specializes in psychiatric conditions.  You’ll save a lot of time by going directly to a psychiatrist.

Don’t Be Shy!

Your doctor is not God!  If your psychiatrist has a brusque or intimidating demeanor, you can decide whether you want to put up with it.  But the best provider will have your best interest at heart.  And the best psychiatrists are willing to listen to your questions and opinions.

Realize that managed care often results in psychiatrists having to limit their time with you, unlike a speech pathologist or other therapist who works on a 45-50 minute session.  Other than the first session, which can be up to an hour, your psychiatrist will tend to spend less time with you.  But you may want to consider paying for a longer session or sessions until you feel comfortable that you really understand what is going on in your child’s treatment.

What do you think about medication and Aspeger’s syndrome?  And, as a young person or adult, what has your experience been?  What did I leave out?

photo credit: e-MagineArt.com

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 I'm Steve Borgman.  I'm a licensed clinical professional counselor and blogger committed to bringing you hope, understanding, and solutions that you can apply to your life immediately.
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  • Pingback: What Everybody Ought To Know About Aspergers and Depression()

  • http://psicologanapoli.com/ Kasha@PSICOLOGA NAPOLI

    I do agree with all the ideas you have introduced to your post. They are very convincing and will certainly work. Still, the posts are very short for beginners. May you please extend them a little from next time? Thank you for the post.

  • http://www.stephenborgman.com Stephen Borgman

    Kasha, thank you very much for stopping by. Given that I work full time, as well as in private practice, I can only write articles as long as my time will permit, which is not a lot :) However, if you would like to write some more extensive articles as a guest in this area of autism spectrum facts and solutions, I will welcome your research.

  • RussellsRiff

    Great piece. My child is on 15 MG daily of Focalin, and it has done wonders for him. He was moved temporarily to Vivance, but we took him off after he suffered from terrible abdominal pains as a side symptom. The Focalin gives him complete focus during the school day. When he’s not on it, it is a HUGE struggle for everybody. His grades this year so far have averaged 100. He’s smart, but without the Focalin, he averages B grades. He also is more open to social correction and much happier emotionally. He’s 10, and this started when he was 8. I was reticent to put him on a drug, but now I am so happy we did. We work both with a child psychologist and his pediatrician and meet with them very regularly to keep this monitored properly.

  • http://www.myaspergers.net/ SteveBorgman

    RussellsRiff Wow!  That’s great to hear!  In addition to medication, I’ve spoken with parents lately who have also researched diet and vitamins helpful to their child.  Nutrition is yet another piece to the puzzle.  On the other hand, medication really can be helpful, as your experience shows.  I’m so happy for your son!