A Guide for Autism, ADHD
and Related Conditions
a Big Decision
As you consider your options, it may help to know some basic facts.
Every medicine has its benefits and its risks. Deciding to take medication for Autism or ADHD is all about balancing possible benefits against possible side effects.
Medication helps most when part of an overall treatment plan. Your plan may include therapies or support services to help with problems that medication alone can’t treat. Accommodations at work or school may also be part of your plan.
Needs may change over time. A variety of factors - maturation, the impact of other therapies and supports, changes in environment - may mean that over time, a medication that was once beneficial is no longer needed.
Work together with your doctor to ensure that any medication prescribed is used for the right reasons, in the right amount, and for the right length of time.
What are Psychiatric Medications?
These medications are used to treat mental health conditions. Sometimes they are also given to people because their behaviour is seen as challenging. People who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or related conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are more likely to be given these medications, when compared to the general population.
While these medications are right for some people, they can sometimes cause serious health complications - particularly when taken in higher doses and over longer time periods. Because of this, care is needed. And it’s important to know that there are other ways of helping people, so that they may need less medication, or none at all.
How Can Medication Help?
Psychiatric medications, when used in the right amount, for the right reason, and for the right length of time, can often be of significant benefit in managing symptoms.
Depending on the medication used, they may help in one or more of the following ways:
• Reducing anxiety • Controlling aggression
• Improving ability to focus • Reducing self-injury
• Stabilizing mood • Improving impulse control
• Lessening irritability • Calming overactive behaviour
When Considering Medication…
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Get the information you need to make informed decisions. Ask your doctor how medication might help with your specific concerns. Also find out about possible side effects. Your pharmacist is another good source of information about medication benefits, side effects, and potential drug interactions.
Find out about other (non-medication) options available. A variety of non-medication supports are available to help manage symptoms of ADHD and/or ASD. With the right supports, people with these conditions may need less medication – or in some cases, none at all. See the Local Resources section of this website for information on supports in your community. And ask your doctor or case worker – they may know of other supports.
Know that you don’t have to make a long-term commitment. If a prescribed medication doesn’t help, or if side effects are troublesome, you may choose to stop. Make sure talk to your doctor first – for safety, many psychiatric medications need to be stopped gradually and under medical supervision.
Ask your doctor for regular medication reviews. These reviews help ensure that over time, medication continues to be taken for the right reasons and in the right amount. Without regular reviews, prescriptions are often renewed indefinitely - even when they are no longer helping.
What is Overmedication?
Psychiatric medicines can cause problems when people take them for too long. Or take too high a dose. Or take them for the wrong reason. These factors together are described as overmedication.
What Causes Overmedication?
Overmedication has several causes and contributors. These may include:
Medication-first approaches to managing challenging behaviour and mood challenges.
• Difficulty finding or accessing services which offer other ways to support people.
• Continuing prescriptions after they are no longer needed.
• Pharmacist or doctor errors.
• Pharmacists or doctors being unaware of other or
• Personal error in dosage or use.
Because there are so many potential causes, overmedication of people with autism, ADHD and other related conditions is common - and occurs across all age groups.
What are the signs and symptoms of Overmedication?
Some of the more common signs of overmedication include:
Unexplained or extreme weight loss or gain
Agitation, restlessness, jitteriness
Mood swings/dramatic changes in mood
Delayed thought process
Drowsiness, fatigue, loss of energy
Unexplained physical pain
Motor and coordination problems
Overly rapid or slowed down speech
Mental cloudiness or confusion
Changes in thinking (e.g. paranoia)
If you notice any of these signs of symptoms – or if you just don’t feel right, physically or mentally – talk to your doctor. If left untreated, overmedication can lead to serious health outcomes.
Don’t be embarrassed to ask questions, report side effects, ask for second opinions or look for additional treatment and support resources. Clear and regular communication between you and your health care team can help you make smart choices about treatment options, monitor treatment effectiveness and avoid overmedication.
See the “Resources” section of this website for a list of non-medication supports and resources available in your community. Note: Our resource lists are updated periodically. If you have information on additional resources, please contact us at email@example.com.
SOAR is a non-profit organization that works to reduce the over-use of psychiatric medications among autistic people and members of other neuro-minorities. SOAR helps people have access to a range of treatment and support options, with the ultimate goal of helping people stay well and have a good quality of life.
Together, We Can Soar