Friday, November 11, 2011

Medication Is No Panacea

The decision to put our son on medication was one of the hardest we have faced since our son was diagnosed with autism more than five years ago.

We have pursued biomedical treatment for Kai through DAN! (Defeat Autism Now!) doctors. He’s had intensive therapy for years. And he has made a lot of progress.

But Kai still has a number of challenges.

He has trouble staying on task at school. He has difficulty following directions. And, although he has made dramatic improvements over the years, he still gets angry and upset far too often, and that leads to unsafe incidents.

His teachers and therapists have noted that he often seems anxious. They’ve said that he seems to have attention deficits.

Earlier this year, we had a psychologist conduct a formal neuropsychological examination. One of her recommendations was that we consider medication.

And so we did.

We were referred to a pediatric psychiatrist. He scoffed at the biomedical treatment we had been doing, and even used the word “quack” to describe it.

So you might think that we would have quicker and better results with the “regular” medication than with the “quack” approaches we had been doing.

And yet, we have found that when it comes to this area, medical practice is as much of an art as a science.

Over the past several months, the doctor has tried two different anti-anxiety meds and two different drugs for ADHD. He’s adjusted the dosage levels several times.

The initial effect of the drugs was to bring on a number of side effects.

One medicine made our son so lethargic that he lost his personality for a while. He even fell asleep at school a few times, which is very unusual for him.

One of his ADHD drugs brought on severe ticks. We found out that there are two types of ADHD meds, those that are stimulative and ones that are not. The stimulative ones can exacerbate ticks. So, we switched to a non-stimulative drug that seems to have added to our son’s lethargy.

We heard from other parents that these things take time. We were encouraged to persevere, that over time a good psychiatrist will find the right combination of drugs and dosage for our child. These other parents told us they were ready to quit the medication, but after many months, their child became better, and they were glad to have continued.

In our case, we considered it progress when the side effects went down. Our son isn’t as lethargic anymore. His ticks dissipated (though now are returning).

But it is hard to say how much benefit we are seeing.

Kai had a pretty good month at school in October. We were encouraged that perhaps we had finally found the right mix of drugs for him.

But in November, his behavior issues at school have returned to their previous high levels.

We will continue with the medication for a little longer. Hopefully we will see more positive results.

But there is no sure-fire treatment for our son’s issues. There is no panacea.

I did not mention the specific medication that our son has been on because our experience indicates that what works for one child may not work with another. And so, there is little point to divulging that information here.

* * * * * *

This post is part of this month’s S-O-S Best of the Best Series: Medications and Their Use with Special Needs Kids. Best of the Best is a collection of bloggers who come together on the 15th of each month to write on one topic pertaining to “invisible” special needs. Starting November 15, check out this month’s edition by clicking here.


  1. Just because one med might not work doesn't mean another won't. We did what you are going thru now and I can tell you that it took a number of tries before we found the right thing. We still do the "quack" stuff but we do the meds too....

  2. I hope your doctor can find just the right dosage and medication combination. I know how torn I would feel were I in your position. It would be especially difficult for me to watch my son go through the side effects. Hopefully time will be kind...and the realized effects soon.

  3. Anon - It's always nice to hear from others who have experienced what we are going through now. Hopefully we will also find the right thing eventually.

    Shiroi Tora-san - Yes, seeing the negative side effects is difficult, and is what gives us the most pause.

  4. Oh, for a panacea. There is none. Just choices, choices, choices, waiting, evaluating and tweaking. Pray you find what is right for your family.

  5. What Martianne said
    Great post
    Sending you much sympathy
    I love the way allopathic doctors call all DAN doctors quacks - when mainstram medicine can explain the way of autism then I will believe 100 percent in what they say - but for the most part noone knows the full story - they all know a part

  6. Thanks, K.

    Yes, it is incredible that mainstream doctors can call DAN doctors quacks when their own approaches seem ever more hit or miss. And you're right, for now, no one has all the answers.


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