“Our doctor wants to start my son who has high functioning autism [Aspergers] on an SSRI. I have told the doc that I need to discuss this with my husband first. At this point, I am not feeling comfortable with my son being on drugs, but will be open to the idea if the advantages appear to outweigh the disadvantages. Not sure about the disadvantages though. Any insight will be wonderful. Thanks in advance.”
Medication can be an important part of treatment for some kids and teens on the autism spectrum. However, medication should only be used as one part of a total treatment plan. Ongoing evaluation and monitoring by your doctor is crucial. Moms and dads should be provided with complete information when medication is recommended, and the child should be included in the discussion about medications, using words he understands.
By getting answers to the following questions, you should be able to make an informed decision about whether or not to start your son on an SSRI:
- Are there any activities that my son should avoid while taking the medication? Are any precautions recommended for other activities?
- Are there any laboratory tests (e.g. heart tests, blood test, etc.) that will need to be done before my son begins taking the medication? Will any tests need to be done while he is taking the medication?
- Are there any other medications or foods, which my son should avoid while taking the medication?
- Are there interactions between this medication and other medications (prescription and/or over-the-counter) my son is taking?
- Does my son's school nurse need to be informed about this medication?
- How long will my son need to take this medication? How will the decision be made to stop this medication?
- How will the medication help my son? How long before I see improvement? When will it work?
- Is this medication addictive? Can it be abused?
- What are the side effects which commonly occur with this medication?
- What do I do if a problem develops (e.g., my son becomes ill, doses are missed, or side effects develop)?
- What is known about its helpfulness with other kids who have a similar disorder to my son?
- What is the cost of the medication (generic vs. brand name)?
- What is the name of the medication? Is it known by other names?
- What is the recommended dosage? How often will the medication be taken?
- Will you (the doctor) be monitoring my son's response to this medication and make dosage changes if necessary? How often will progress be checked?
FYI: Research has shown that SSRI medications can treat certain symptoms of Aspergers and high functioning autism. The notion is that an imbalance of neurotransmitters may lead to problems with mood and behavior in some children on the spectrum. However, the FDA reported that an extensive analysis of clinical trials showed that antidepressants may cause or worsen suicidal thinking or behavior in a small number of kids and teens. The analysis showed that 4 percent of those taking antidepressants had an increase in suicidal thoughts, compared with 2 percent of those taking a sugar pill (placebo). None of the young people in any of the studies actually followed through with suicide. Nonetheless, the FDA considered the findings of enough concern that it issued a public health advisory and began requiring manufacturers to label antidepressants with strong warnings about the link to suicidal thinking and behavior in kids and teens.