Archive for June, 2011

Autism is not the same as schizophrenia, so why are we using risperidone, abilify, and other anti-psychotic medicines to “treat” autism?

Jun 16 2011 Published by under Asperger's

Autism is not the same as schizophrenia, so why are we using risperidone, abilify, and other anti-psychotic medicines to “treat” autism?

Back in the nineties, as a physician in training, I spent a couple of months at a group home for schizophrenics who are incapable of independent living. Naturally I saw and assisted in the care of dozens of patients. It was not easy being around these patients, they were difficult to deal with and some were flat out dangerous. One story from my time in the home stands out as a typical schizophrenia tragedy. On my second day on the job I met this handsome man who clearly has neglected his looks, hygiene and attire for many years. He is in his thirties and had been in the home for almost ten years straight.

As we begin to talk, he starts telling me about his wonderful childhood. He was brought up in a well to do family. He went to private schools and had educated and considerate parents. He had many friends and everyone who knew him knew he was going places. He had nothing bad or derogatory or hurtful to say about his childhood. In fact, he smiled broadly whenever he described his life at home or school. He went on to college and was admitted to a competitive medical school where he thought he was fulfilling a dream of being able to help people improve their lives.

He describes with enthusiasm and eloquent detail his college years, his girlfriend at the time, and his ability to overcome many hurdles until he earned a spot in medical school. He goes on to describe his first year of medicine with a broad smile. He tells me about the courses he took, the medical discoveries that fascinated him and about his professors and classmates. Then some time during his second year, he went out to see a movie on a Sunday night with a couple of friends. In the movie theater he felt what he described as lightening in his head followed by an unimaginably painful headache. Alarmed, he ran back home.

I was listening attentively as he suddenly stopped talking. I asked him, in what I will never forget as long as I live, “what happened after that?”. He simply answered, “I was brought here”. His smile gone, I realized that he did not have anything to say about the last ten years of his life. It was like someone drew a line that fateful day at the theater and everything that followed was just complete emptiness. There was nothing to tell because to him, nothing happened; it was and continues to be just an empty and meaningless existence devoid of feelings, accomplishments, relationships, learning, skill execution and every other human property you can think of. Everything before that Sunday at the theater is just mere memory to him. None of it relates to his present. He lost the ability to function in any intellectual capacity and became a non-human entity housed in the body of a handsome young man.

He has all the memories of a life that did not seem to be his. He can no longer relate to any of the mental or social skills he used to have. It was as if someone came along and grabbed all these skills away from him leaving him an empty shell.

This is a theme story that is typical of how schizophrenia develops in young adults. This is without question, not a typical story of how autism develops. However, on the surface, there some similarities in the demeanor of schizophrenics and autistics. I will dissect the main similarity that has led to all the confusion among doctors and the public alike. While both schizophrenics and autistics appear withdrawn and unwilling to participate in the world as we know it. They arrive at this place through completely different processes and have completely different futures from there.

Schizophrenics are withdrawn because they have nothing left to offer to another human being or to better their own lives. Unfortunately, medication or not, this central theme is likely to drag on for the rest of their lives. In other words, they lose the human part of the brain and they never get it back.

Autistics, on the other hand, are withdrawn because they are overwhelmed with everything they have to offer. And eventually, many figure it out, come out of their shell and go on to discover their talents and gain access to the human part of their brain. Being autistic means being highly sensitive to sensory stimulation and stress in general. This often leads to over-stimulation and sensory overload. When that happens, an autistic person is forced to shut down until the overload is washed out. This means that during overwhelming conditions autistics lose access to the higher mental and social functions on a strictly temporary basis. This does not mean their brain capacity is permanently depleted, as is the case in schizophrenia. This only means they have to shut down the higher brain functions until the sensory overload washes out. Once that happens autistics can go on to contribute to other people’s lives and to enrich many lives including their own.

While overwhelmed, sometimes for years on end, autistics may miss out on learning all sorts of skills. However given the right understanding and accepting environment they can catch up on any skills they missed. This is also in dramatic contrast to schizophrenia. The latter group has virtually no chance of going back and building a life since their mental faculties are depleted.

Risperidone, abilify and other anti-psychotics are meant to help control schizophrenics and to calm them down. They do not treat, cure, or change the course of schizophrenia. That course is already set beyond anyone’s ability to manipulate it. These drugs are meant primarily to keep schizophrenics from harming themselves and others. And at that they often do the job they are employed to do. The price medicated patients pay is that the medications prevent one from realizing their potential in life. A distinction without a meaning in schizophrenia. However, in autism, this distinction makes all the difference. What parent will knowingly give a drug to their son or daughter that is sure to keep this budding life from realizing its potential. What parent will knowingly give their son or daughter a drug that takes away their chances of leading a productive and independent life. The answer obviously is, none. This parent does not exist. However, mainstream doctors ignorantly package these drugs as something that will make your child easier to handle, and maybe even more sociable. That way, parents are erroneously enticed to try such drugs. This blatantly misleading packaging of course makes for a way out for a doctor who has little else to offer. Not for lack of other more productive means of handling autism; but for lack of “sanctioned” means of handling autism as far as the medical establishment is concerned.

I can go on and tell you about all the medical facts that support my observations and conclusions but I see no need since it is obvious for any scrutinizing eye to tell the difference between these two completely independent situations. Sometimes, you just have to be there to know. However, if anybody is interested, I will be happy to share the evidence as it stands.

Rami Serhan, MD
(206) 659-1ASD (273)

No responses yet

Proudly using Dynamic Headers by Nicasio WordPress Design