Medicating your autistic child sounds like something you can do to relieve your stress, but it doesn’t benefit your child. Here are six reasons why I believe it’s best not to medicate autistic children.
In fact, it can cause more harm than good and long-term damage. Let’s discuss why, from an autistic adult who was medicated as a child.
- Why is medication given to autistic children?
- 6 Reasons you should NOT medicate autism
- What if you have already medicated your autistic child?
Why is medication given to autistic children?
Parents of autistic children are tired.
You might be scared to say this, so I will: We’re exhausting, handfuls, and difficult.
Autistic people are not difficult on purpose. Being around other autistic people makes a world of difference for us. Neurodivergent people tend to gravitate towards other neurodivergent people.
However, non-autistic people do not understand this and don’t know what to do with us. Historically, children are meant to be “dealt” with and were created not out of blessings but to continue the family line.
Society has been conditioned to view children has burdens and find jokes about hating their kids hilarious. This is even more present in mommy wine culture and extends to people joking about hating their spouse or life ending because of marriage.
You have been conditioned to seek ways to make other people around you behave in ways that keep you comfortable. It stunts your growth. It’s not inherently your fault, but choosing not to unlearn this behavior is your fault.
Why is this important to address? Because it is why so many awful autism studies exist today, like those supporting the medication of autistic children.
Children with autism are not docile. Instead of complying, they ask, “Why?” and, “What if…?”
Non-autistic kids do this, too, but it’s less obvious and celebrated more because their behaviors are typical for non-autistic parents, so you are comfortable with their behaviors.
Until recently, non-autistic people dominated the autism research field. Instead of asking, “How can we nurture autistic children so they thrive in the world?” they asked, “How can we condition children with autism to behave like our neurotype?”
As a result, you have loads of research about why medicating autistic children works and doctors who recommend it as well.
As soon as my primary doctor found out about my autism, she asked me what medication I was taking for it. I said, “There is no medication for autism,” and she asked me why I refused treatment. This should not be the default conversation we have with our doctors and is one reason autistic people do not seek medical help when they need it.
What medications are used to treat autism symptoms?
No medication is created for autistic people. Autistic symptoms are actually autistic traits. Still, some medications are prescribed for autistic children and adults.
To reduce stimming and keep autistic children from self-regulating, they’re often prescribed muscle relaxers.
Giving us muscle relaxers for something like Tourette syndrome tics is one thing. Doing it to keep us from stimming is abuse.
Would you medicate a neurotypical child who expresses joy by smiling, singing or another form you find acceptable? Why does one person’s emotional expression have to be deemed acceptable in our opinion to be valid?
Aripripazole and risperidone are used to treat aggression and irritability. The FDA doesn’t approve of any other drugs for treating autistic traits or conditions with similar symptoms.
Medication to combat side effects
Autistic children are often prescribed anywhere between two and 17+ different prescriptions. If you take one medication, you often need another to combat the side effects. Then, you need an addition to combat the side effects of taking those together.
It’s a neverending process.
6 Reasons you should NOT medicate autism
Parents who educate themselves about autism as narrated by autistic people tend to reject medicating their children.
Autistic people don’t just share the sunshine and rainbows wonder that is our imagination and stims, but we don’t post our meltdowns for sympathy either.
Here are four crucial reasons you should reconsider medicating your autistic child.
1. The Giver
Have you read or watched The Giver? Do you remember how it ends?
For those who have not, The Giver features a utopian society where no one feels anything and is medicated if they express any real emotion, so they don’t experience it. Anyone who does not fit into the cookie cutter society is viewed as a problem.
The Giver passes memories down to Jonas, who is destined to become the next Giver. They live in a colorless society void of prejudice and emotion, therefore there is no war.
The more he learns about life with these memories of the past, which are full of color and emotion, the more appalled he is at the behaviors of the people around him.
This is akin to how autistic children and people feel. Non-autistic parents of autistic children have no idea the harm they are causing, but that doesn’t make their behavior right.
Jonas’s friend soon begins to learn what feeling is like. Her world becomes color. Eventually the curse created by the utopia is lifted and even his parents realize what they’re about to do.
This unraveling is similar to how parents of autistic children describe their experience after unlearning ableism and learning about autism from actually autistic people.
2. Medication doesn’t solve the problem.
I asked a psychiatrist — mine at the time — why the default solution is prescribing medication. She said, “It is protocol in this country.”
I replied, “But medication doesn’t solve the problems when the reason a person needs it in the first place is due to external conflict and stimuli. Sometimes it’s because of miscommunication or lack of development required to handle difficult situations.”
She stared at me for a moment, the student behind her just smiling at me, then asked how well I was eating. My anti-anxiety meds (two) were to stimulate my appetite in early eating disorder recovery. Satisfied, she me took me off of them.
When medication is prescribed to fix unwanted behaviors, it’s never supposed to be a permanent solution. But it will be permanent if you do not put in the work to understand autism so you can embrace autism.
Did you know that autistic children are often prescribed more than 10 different medications? Or that children in general are over-medicated?
3. Everyone has unwanted behaviors.
Does your spouse do anything that annoys you? Or your mom, friend, etc.? Have you ever had a teacher who always left one small mark on the board?
Everyone does something that someone else doesn’t like, but the problem lies in how bad someone handles their emotions.
We’ve been conditioned to view children as burdens, and autistic children get dumped on because they are not automatically compliant.
Parents who are not as bothered by their autistic children or see those behaviors as normal are typically autistic themselves.
Autistic children will not grow into non-autistic adults, but they will believe and inherit the values you raise them with. Are you teaching them boundaries and how to love themselves, or are you teaching them that they cannot trust themselves?
In autism, unwanted behaviors include stimming, meltdowns, shutdowns and not speaking.
Unwanted behaviors in non-autistic children include:
- Emotional dysregulation
- Harming animals
- Psychological Abuse
On the surface, they are simply unwanted behaviors. But let’s look at what kinds of problems can cause some of these:
- Aggression is often due to frustration, emotional dysregulation, conflict and sensory overload
- Trichotillomania is often an indicator of severe trauma and stress. Mine is triggered by stress and cPTSD, which was caused by repeat trauma.
- Alcoholism and drug abuse are a form of sensory-seeking behavior that is often the result of severe trauma, stress or an inability to meet sensory needs in other forms.
- Harming animals is a sign of emotional disconnect, typically caused by dismissive caregivers/a child unable to develop a secure attachment to a caregiver because there was no positive influence regularly in their lives.
- Psychological abuse often results from emotional dysregulation and a need for control, learned from their caregivers who treated them similarly or simply did not meet their needs.
Medicating the child will not resolve the behaviors.
4. You are setting your child up to self-medicate.
A crucial part of child development is learning how to regulate emotions. It’s your job as a parent or caregiver to teach them.
Suppressing these natural behaviors is a disservice to your child, as they will grow into a teen and adult who doesn’t know how to regulate emotions.
Communicating with an emotionally stunted adult is like explaining to a toddler why they need a nap.
Unfortunately, not everyone makes it to therapy for a plethora of reasons. Even the emotionally immature adults will seek external stimuli to make up for the lack of deeper connections, while asking why they fall into the same patterns of relationships.
Neglect is when you do not help your child develop in a way that helps them survive as an adult. Humans need emotional regulation to function.
Self-medication is a major problem with multiple causes.
I don’t speak for all autistics, but I can speak for myself and share my experience:
As a kid, I was given muscle relaxers to quell Tourette’s tics, but once I was off them when I got older, I’d be given them by other relatives who were tired of my stimming.
Anytime I had an asthma attack, they forced me to drink a bottle of cough syrup instead of using my inhaler. Anything I felt was medicated, and it was someone else’s prescription.
I’d say, “No, that makes me feel weird,” and it didn’t matter. “No” did not mean no; it meant I was being difficult. Autistic children are often not allowed to say “no”.
I was around 10 years old when I started stealing Tums from the cabinet and eating them like candy. Maybe that’s when the eating disorder started.
This was what I knew I was supposed to do. I hated the way it all made me feel, but I didn’t know any better.
I associated feeling anything other than numb with negativity. I was only allowed to be happy and expected to fake it if I wasn’t, so I put on my autistic mask and faked happiness.
October 2007, I sat in my closet and begged Jesus to “take me home, please” through my tears because I felt like I’d never escape my abusive family and didn’t think I’d make it through.
I don’t know how old I was when I swallowed a lot of pain pills in hopes that I would stop feeling the pain of pretending to be okay in exchange for love and connection.
Now, I’m nearly 32 years old and don’t take much medication unless I absolutely have to. I’ve learned to stop gaslighting myself through years of therapy.
Learning emotional regulation is a work-in-progress, but I am doing it for myself, my cat, the people I keep in my life, and my future children. I have no positive relationship with my abusers.
Having been medicated is considered a risk factor for some serious physical health conditions I have in adulthood.
5. Antipsychotics have long-term effects on the brain and body.
Many antipsychotics increase the risk of metabolic syndrome, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, seizures, blood disorders, body temperature problems, liver disorders, skin problems, psychosis, depression and suicidal ideation, and more.
Researchers found patients who stopped taking antipsychotics within two years of taking the drug were about six times more likely to recover from “serious mental illness” — regardless of the diagnosis.
Children who take antipsychotics are at great risk of sedation, diabetes, high cholesterol, unexpected death and heart disease.
6. If they were not autistic, it would be abuse.
If people did to neurotypical children what is done to autistic children, everyone would be outraged and cry abuse. This is a form of ableism.
Children are given Benadryl by parents who just want them to sleep, which is abuse. Autistic children are given Benadryl to sleep and calm down. This is also abuse, but some doctors will recommend it since the child is autistic.
When the parent is caught doing this, society sympathizes with them because the child is autistic. The world does not see autistic children as real children. It doesn’t see autistic adults as real adults, either.
“You see, you start pretty much from scratch when you work with an autistic child. You have a person in the physical sense — they have hair, a nose and a mouth — but they are not people in the psychological sense. One way to look at the job of helping autistic kids is to see it as a matter of constructing a person. You have the raw materials, but you have to build the person.”
Lovaas did not believe autistic children were real people. He thought they were Mr. Potato Head: Play-Doh Edition.
What if you have already medicated your autistic child?
You might be reading this, wondering if it’s too late to make up for not knowing any better. I can’t tell you whether it’s too late, but something I have learned is that the damage you caused matters less in comparison to how you behave once you know better.
Listen to the autistic community. We are out here, on the internet, sharing our stories on every platform. Autistic teens and adults are giving non-autistic parents the keys to understanding us. We’re giving you the answers.
You only have to listen, work through your own discomfort, and actively strive to do better. Accept your mistakes and learn how to cope with them.
Seek autistic-friendly professionals who lift up autistic voices instead of dismissing them. If someone on your child’s team tells you autistic adults are “dramatic and probably self-diagnosed”, run.
I’m diagnosed, and the ability to comprehend the test itself is the real test. The paperwork doesn’t prove anything to anyone, except to gain resources as a child. Those who think autism has a particular look has no business being around actually autistic children.
It’s not your fault for not knowing, but it is your fault for knowing better and still pursuing harm regardless.
I prefer to believe you are not the type of parent who actively harms their child while knowing better. You deserve grace. Nothing changes if nothing changes, but it doesn’t have to change overnight.
Pace yourself. Sleep on it. Keep learning. Listen to autistic people — some of us are even in the autism medical community!
Stay kind to yourself. Try not to focus so much on whether it’s too late, but rather, “How can I do better?” You are your only competition.
If you are struggling, it means you’re trying, and you just don’t have the right tools yet. I empathize, because I feel similar about adulting. Autistic adults and non-autistic parents of autistic children are more alike than meets the device screen.