Autism, better known today as Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, is a difficult condition to diagnose and treat. There are two major reasons for this. The first is that ASD has a broad range of different symptoms at different intensities, which can make it difficult to assess and diagnose correctly. People on the “higher functioning” end of the spectrum, for example, may not even realize they have autism and believe that they are introverted or have some minor communication problems compared to other people. On the extreme end, “lower functioning” patients may be misdiagnosed as schizophrenic or mentally ill.
The other major issue is that the neurological symptoms of ASD are both behavioral and physiological, and it can sometimes be difficult to decide where one starts and the other begins. Difficulty with everyday activities, such as learning to tie shoes, might be overcome with a specific approach in occupational therapy. However, if a child is having seizures, that will have a physiological source and may require a specific medicine. But then, in complex situations, a child’s neurological development may mean that information is being processed differently from other children. One solution to this is to overcome the difference through behavioral therapy or resort to medicinal treatment.
But which conditions in ASD benefit from medical treatment rather than therapy? Here’s a quick guide to some of the medical treatments that have been advised for ASD patients.
One of the more extreme symptoms of severe ASD can be seizures. In some cases, prescribing anticonvulsants can be an effective way to control and reduce both the frequency and intensity of the seizures someone with autism experiences. Approximately one-third of people with ASD suffer from seizures or comprehensive seizure disorders.
While it may seem counterintuitive, an effective way to treat hyperactive disorders can sometimes be through the judicious use of stimulants. Some symptoms of ASD result in hyperactive behavior and an inability to focus when directed to do so. Stimulants, when applied to people with mild ASD symptoms, can increase focus and decrease hyperactive behavior, leading to better behavior and concentration if required in certain settings.
People with ASD can experience very powerful, negative emotions, sometimes beyond their control, depending on the circumstances. For example, many people with ASD react badly to disruptions in their established routines. Their reaction to such disruptions can range from irritation to being very upset, in the worst case scenarios, panic or anxiety attacks. Anti-anxiety medication can be an effective way to reduce the severity of related panic or anxiety disorders tied to ASD.
Another behavior that is sometimes displayed by people with ASD is depression. A behavioral aspect related to depression is obsessive-compulsive disorders or OCD. Tricyclics are a form of anti-depressant that can help to ease the more severe depression symptoms, allowing ASD patients to take more affirmative action, or decrease their reliance on OCD behaviors, to more efficiently learn new things and adapt to more productive routines.
Psychoactive, or anti-psychotic medication can be very effective in helping to manage and reduce some of the more extreme ASD behavioral symptoms. Risperidone, for example, has been successfully administered to reduce chronic irritability in patients between the ages of 5-16 who are diagnosed with autism.
Anti-psychotics, in turn, can help to reduce aggressive or violent behavior, decrease hyperactivity, and even help to blunt the more withdrawn behavior that can sometimes be prevalent in those diagnosed with ASD. It can make more difficult ASD patients manageable, and in some cases, reduce the threat of violence to others in the environment.
Selective Seratonin Reuptake Inhibitors
This is a class of drugs that, while more recent, has been widely deployed in the treatment of a variety of different behavioral disorders, including depression, anxiety, and host of others. ASD patients that respond positively to SSRIs may experience reduced anxiety, depression, irritability, tantrums, and other more aggressive behavior. Even hyperactivity may be reduced, while increased eye contact may occur. SSRIs function by addressing imbalances in the body’s neurochemical systems, helping to stabilize and restore normal levels.
Stem Cell Therapy
While it’s a very recent development, and more often associated with cancer treatments, stem cell therapy has been producing promising results when applied to patients with ASD. Unlike other treatments, this is not a medicine that needs to be taken regularly, but instead an injection of stem cells to help encourage the body to reproduce healthy cells where required.
Stem cell therapy has been found to help manage and reduce certain behaviors, such as aggression, and even improve other aspects of ASD, such as language skills. While it is not a cure for ASD, the same as other treatments, it can help ASD diagnosed children to better deal with their condition, and manage some of the more disruptive behavior if stem cell therapy is recommended for treatment.