Is It Time to Put My Autistic Son on Medication?Lisa Quinones-Fontanez
When my son, Norrin, was first diagnosed with autism, I remember telling the doctor: I will never put my son on medication.
That was five years ago. I was ignorant. I didn’t know what autism was, what it looked like, or what it took to be a special needs parent.
During these last five years, we’ve worked with multiple therapists. We’ve done ABA, OT, PT, and Speech. Norrin attends a special education school, and he still gets ABA therapy at home (every day after school) 20 hours a week.
Norrin is almost eight years old. He has a dual diagnosis of autism and ADHD. He is a bright, friendly, and lovable kid who is fast on his feet and so easily distracted. He needs constant redirection to get through a single homework page. He still has difficulty following two or three step directions. He can’t be left unsupervised. He runs and has no awareness of danger. I can’t tell you how often a therapist has said they believed Norrin is capable of doing so much more, if only he’d slow down, if only he could focus.
Lately, I’ve wondered if medication could help.
A few weeks ago, we had a consultation appointment with a pediatric psychiatrist to discuss the possibilities. I wondered if people would judge me for “drugging” my kid. And what would we tell our families?
My husband and I were raised by very old-school Puerto Rican parents. Within the Latino community, there is a stigma around mental health, medication, and disability. We don’t talk about our problems to strangers. We don’t take our kids to psychiatrists. And we certainly don’t medicate our kids for something that can’t be seen or heard.
But I also know this stigma goes beyond the Latino community. Within the autism community, medication is a controversial topic. And I’ve heard parents and professionals talk about parents who opt for medicating their children. I think the misconception is that parents do this on a whim. When the reality is that it’s a painstaking decision.
After talking to the psychiatrist, I have decided to hold off until Norrin’s eighth birthday in January. Don’t get me wrong, the psychiatrist is great. I feel comfortable with his approach and medical philosophy, but he doesn’t accept our insurance and he’s super expensive. After the $800 evaluation to determine Norrin’s needs, the psychiatrist charges $300 per 45 minute session and he wants to see his patients once a week until the medication is stabilized (something that could take months). As much as I like this doctor, I can’t afford him. I need someone with the same approach who accepts my insurance.
I’ve also heard mixed reviews regarding medication from other parents. Some swear by it, saying that their kids can’t function without it. While others say medication didn’t make a difference. I’ve heard talk of mood swings, weight gain, and lethargy.
And I talked about it with my husband, Joseph, over these last few weeks. He’s not necessarily on board with the idea, but he’ll go with it if I want to try. Joseph’s scared of “losing” Norrin. And I understand all of his fears because I have them too. If Norrin’s going to be on medication, I want us both to feel comfortable with this decision.
Parents have always been my best resource when it comes to all things special needs and I’m reaching out to you for help. Is your child on medication? When did you start? What has your experience been like?
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Read more of Lisa’s writing at AutismWonderland.
photo credit: istock.com