E. Willingham

E. Willingham

Emily Willingham, a Forbes blogger who frequently waxes less-than-sympathetic in her stories concerning autism, recently posted her Five Scariest ‘Treatments’. While I do not disagree with some of her picks, I take issue with the tone of the blog and the absence of recognition about the real culprits in autism treatment debacle.

Willingham displays an apparent lack of understanding about the frustrations suffered by the autism community, the paucity of useful research and treatment options, and the desperation of parents seeking answers. “Autism invites its share of quacks. In fact, it might have more quacks in its vicinity than a duck pond,” was her preamble to the story-in-question.

What about the most common treatment options? How scary are they? Although the conventional ‘autism meds’ may reduce some behavioral signs and symptoms, even proponents make no claim regarding improved speech and language, cognition or social isolation (that is, many of the core symptoms of autism).

  1. Risperdal – side effects include “agitation, anxiety, constipation, dizziness, drooling, drowsiness, enuresis, fatigue, hallucination, headache, increased appetite, increased/reduced blood pressure, increased serum prolactin levels, indigestion, insomnia, rapid or irregular heartbeat, restlessness, runny nose, sleepiness, vomiting, weight gains, withdrawal dyskinesias.” PLUS, it “…may mask signs and symptoms of drug overdose and of conditions such as intestinal obstruction, brain tumor, and Reye’s syndrome, may also cause difficulty when swallowing, which in turn can cause a type of pneumonia, may cause… a condition marked by muscle stiffness or rigidity, fast heartbeat or irregular pulse, increased sweating, high fever, and high or low blood pressure. Unchecked, this condition can prove fatal…”
  2. Abilify -“can cause the following side effects: headache, nervousness, drowsiness, dizziness, heartburn, constipation, diarrhea, stomach pain, weight gain, increased appetite, increased salivation, and pain, especially in the arms, legs, or joints. More seriously, it can sometimes cause seizures, slow, fast, or irregular heartbeat, chest pain, changes in vision, unusual movements of your body or face that you cannot control, high fever, muscle stiffness, confusion, sweating, rash, hives, itching, swelling of the eyes, face, mouth, lips, tongue, throat, hands, feet, ankles, or lower legs, difficulty breathing or swallowing, tightening of the neck muscles, tightness in the throat…A small number of children, teenagers, and young adults who took medications for depression during clinical studies became suicidal…”
  3. Prozac and Zoloft are the new kids on the block. I treat numerous youngsters who have been put on non-FDA approved medications by child neurologists and psychiatrists. The side effects are similar to those listed above, without any formal path for reporting adverse events. I suppose that the conventional doctors don’t have to play by the same rules as they espouse (as in, “there are no studies showing safety or efficacy…”).
  4. Pepcid, Prilosec, Zantac and Miralax®. I have included these gastro-intestinal preparations because, a) The need for such medication is an important, often ignored, clue to the type and cause of many presentations of autism, and b) Instead of exploring G-I signs and symptoms, traditional medicine often minimizes their significance or even compounds the situation with inappropriate drugs.
  5. Stimulants, including Focalin, Concerta, Vyvanse, Ritalin, and Adderall in various combinations, dosages, and frequencies. These are medications targeted to ADHD (hyperactive or focus) symptoms. Many ASD patients do not have autism AND hyperactivity (as a comorbidity); rather, they have signs and symptoms appearing as ADHD because of their delayed social development and resulting immaturity. Just because your child is stoned and more compliant, it doesn’t mean that the medicine ‘worked’.

Dr. Willingham is personally touched by, and has previously demonstrated understanding and empathy toward ASD patients and families. However, the autism community is not as ignorant, simple-minded, gullible or unaware as this expert cautions. It’s the vaccine effect. Anyone who doesn’t understand that all vaccines are good for all children all the time must be in need of her advice on all things concerning ASD.

If families experienced more genuine understanding from the medical profession, and if the scientific community could spend more time on useful research into current and future treatments, there would be less need for all of those self-important warnings about which treatments NOT to explore.

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