New Study Finds a Need for Clearer Guidelines for Medicating Autism, ADHD

March 05, 2012

New Study Finds a Need for Clearer Guidelines for Medicating Autism, ADHD

Using medication to regulate behavior is a hot topic in special needs education. Way back in July of 2011, my first post for ChildsWork actually explored just that phenomenon. In that post, I asked whether or not medication for ADHD was the right choice for many parents, children and teachers and provided guidance for starting the conversation with parents in regards to the benefits of properly controlled medication in behavioral-modification and educational success. At the same time, I acknowledged that in today’s over-medicated society, many parents and children/patients are rightfully skeptical about the utility of medication in the first place. Many children, especially in my own era, experienced a “fog” on ADHD medication that was designed to control them, not help them. This stigma, along with the very little understanding of exactly what makes ADHD and autism “tick” in the first place, has caused a divide in the medical community when it comes to medication used in ADHD and autism treatment. Guidelines, if there are any, are hazy at best. Looking at the Numbers – How Much Medicating Is There? With the lack of guidelines in mind, a recent study conducted by Paul Shattuck from Washington University in St. Louis and published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology decided to take a look at the medication rates of children with autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, and those suffering from a combination of the two problems. Though the study found that children with autism spectrum disorders and related behavioral problems are medicated at a relatively low rate of about 34%, those with ADHD are medicated much more often (58%). Finally, children diagnosed with both ADHD and autism are medicated at a rate in between those two figures, 49%. In addition to these raw figures, Shattuck’s study also examined medication rates by race. These numbers were perhaps the most telling as they revealed that black teens were far less likely to receive medication than their white counterparts. Looking to the Future – Medication Guidelines More than simple statistics, Shattuck’s study revealed that when it comes to medicating ADHD and autism, the medical community is at an impasse, relying on trial-and-error far more often than proven methods and indications. This is part of what leads to parental refusal of medication, even in the case where the behavioral modifications allotted by medicating these children are to the parents’ and child’s benefit. At the end of the study, Shattuck remarked that there is a significant problem with the “high rates of antipsychotic, antidepressant/anti-anxiety and stimulant medication use[d] in these youths.” Basically, the medical community’s poor understanding of the functioning of the autistic or ADHD brain along with a lack of guidance when it comes to medication has made the process of treating these children difficult and left major questions open for researchers, parents, and caregivers alike. What are your thoughts about medication in children with ADHD and autism spectrum disorders? * Image courtesy of Kittikun Atsawintarangkul



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