Revamped Meds May Help With Autism & Special Needs

Marj Hatzell

medicine bottles
Which one of these could help my child?
Few medications on the market have proven safe and effective to treat autism symptoms. Using medications for children with autism is controversial for a variety of reasons, the least of which is that it is difficult if not unethical to test medications on children in drug studies.

Then there's the whole "No two kids with autism are alike" phenomenon, which basically means that when you meet one child with autism, you've met one child with autism. Even my two boys, who have a few similarities in terms of health and conditions, respond differently to the same treatments. Most parents are unwilling to try medications because they have heard horror stories from other parents about side effects like weight gain, appetite loss, dizziness, seizures, etc. But some parents (like me) felt like a failure when nothing else helped and resorted to trying medications -- and those medications turned out to be life-saving for our child.

Recently, breakthroughs have been made using old medications that have been repurposed for studying autism. And their uses have been found accidentally. Time magazine recently ran an article looking at the effects of Baclofen, a drug used to combat alcohol and other addictions. It is also used as an anti-spasmodic drug for patients with epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. Recent studies have reformulated the drug (now called STX209) for use with autistic children with a history of anxiety and related disorders. It is 10 times more potent than Baclofen. And while the researchers do not claim it can cure, it seems to work.

Even Oxytocin was found to be beneficial to some with autism. Yes, Oxytocin. As in the love drug? The hormone that helps you have contractions when pregnant? In the study, it showed that participants had improved social skills and were more affectionate, something that is commonly difficult with children and adults with autism. And yet another new (old) medication, D-Cycloserine (originally developed for treating tuberculosis), may be beneficial to children with autism and help improve social behavior.

No study is guaranteed, however. And no medication is without risks or side effects. More studies must be done to determine efficacy and long-term outcomes, but these new studies are promising to those of us who have been down the road with Risperdol or Abilify or have been at the point of no return with our children. And when you've tried every therapy you can find and spent your savings on treatments to no avail, sometimes medications are the way to go.

We have had regrets trying some of the treatments, but we have no regrets trying medications since it was literally life or death for us. Either my son was going to be restless and wander and get lost (resulting in many calls to 911 and him running nekkid down the street) or he was going to calm down, play, and be happy at home. It was a no-brainer for us, and we would have tried painting ourselves blue and dancing around a fire during a full moon if it meant he would improve and be safe. The neighbors might have had an issue with it, however. Ahem.

Are medications right for all autistic children? No. Can you see just any doctor? No. But they are worth looking at and are worth considering. Your results could be amazing. And new medication studies give hope to a whole new batch of families.

What do you think of medication studies for children?

Image via Marj Hatzell

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