Medication & Dietary Supplements for Autism – Should You Use Them?

Medication & Dietary Supplements for Autism – Should You Use Them?

When kids with autism have problem behaviors,
inattention, or sleep issues, many medical and educational professionals and relatives
and friends recommend medication. Today, we’re talking all about medication
and I’ll discuss supplements too. Hi, I’m Dr. Mary Barbera, autism mom, board
certified behavior analyst, registered nurse, and the best-selling author of the Verbal
Behavior Approach. Each week I provide you with some of my ideas
about turning autism around, so if you haven’t subscribed to my YouTube channel, you can
do that now. Since I’m both a nurse and a behavior analyst,
as well as an autism mom, I have a strong interest in the behavioral treatment of autism,
but also the medical and biomedical treatments that are often recommended and tried. I have a few previous blogs on medical issues
and pain that I did several months ago, so you may want to check them out too. Today, I’m going to tell you about my son
Lucas’s journey with supplements and medications. This is my own personal story and nothing
in this video blog should be considered medical or behavioral advice, as only a medical and
behavioral professional caring for your own child can provide you with an individualized
medical plan. I also want to tell you that at the end of
the video, after I tell you about Lucas’s journey, I am going to give you six general
tips to consider before medicating your own child or recommending medication to others. When Lucas was diagnosed with autism one day
before he was three, we asked the development pediatrician if there were any medications
used for autism. Since I was and still am an RN and my husband
is an emergency medicine physician, we approached autism, at least in the beginning, from a
total medical point of view. The developmental pediatrician said that there
were medications to treat kids with autism and the various symptoms of autism, like medications
to help with sleep, or medications to calm kids down if they had severe problem behaviors,
but that he did not recommend any medications for Lucas until a good behavioral ABA program
was in place. Within a few months of his diagnosis, we had
set up a 40 hour per week ABA program in our home for Lucas, supplemented with a few hours
each week at typical preschool with a shadow and also he received some speech and OT sessions
too. Over the years, through recommendations of
various doctors and health practitioners, we tried several different supplements and
medications for Lucas. Supplements such as multivitamins and melatonin,
as well as traditional meds to help with sleep issues when Lucas was young. We also tried a few traditional meds such
as antipsychotics and antidepressants to see if these improved Lucas’s situation as he
got a little older. The vast majority of supplements and medications
we tried for Lucas did not work. Many of the traditional medications caused
side effects such as weight gain. Even some of the supplements caused issues
too. I remember when Lucas was young I tried a
multivitamin and 30 minutes after I would give him the vitamin, he’d get agitated and
might even escalate to having a problem behavior. After researching this further, I found that
there was copper in the multivitamin and I also learned that the zinc to copper ratio
in many kids with autism is messed up and that some kids need zinc supplements. They also need to avoid copper. We then got Lucas’s zinc to copper ratio tested
via standard blood test and we put him on zinc and he continues to take zinc each day. We also avoid copper, especially in multivitamins
where copper could appear. There are a few medications and supplements
that did make a huge difference for Lucas though. The doctor who diagnosed Lucas with autism
in ’99 suggested we try an over the counter supplement called melatonin for Lucas who
had poor sleep. The melatonin remains affective for Lucas
to this day and he’s 22 years old now. In some kids, melatonin, and I’ve seen this
with my own eyes, can backfire causing bad dreams and an increase in nighttime weight
gain. But for Lucas, melatonin has been a positive. When Lucas was six years old, he developed
acute onset ticks, which later turned out to be diagnosed as PANS, pediatric autoimmune
neuropsychiatric syndrome, and I did a blog on PANS and PANDAS a while back so you may
want to check that out. For PANS and PANDAS, for Lucas, antibiotics
were a big factor in treating flares of PANS for over a decade. The physician who finally diagnosed Lucas
with PANS when he was 14 years old ordered a short-term steroid pack and a different
antibiotic to clear up Lucas’s ticks, which at that point were burping ticks. The antibiotics and the short-term steroid
pack was also successful for Lucas. The doctor who diagnosed Lucas with PANS also
diagnosed chronic sinusitis, headaches, and recommended allergy testing. Shots, allergy shots, which initially started
as once every week after the testing and then went to once every two weeks, three weeks. Lucas is now on year five of allergy shots,
which he gets once a month and he also takes allergy medication three times a day. Because of this allergy treatment, Lucas’s
headaches and allergy symptoms are mostly controlled now. The medication that was added last was a very
big positive for Lucas. Despite getting these allergy shots and medication
since he’s been 14 or 15 years old, Lucas continued to have some serious problem behaviors,
like aggression towards others and self-injurious behavior when he was in pain or when he was
startled. When he had a bad sinus headache, for example,
or when he was in a startled situation such as a fire drill he might engage in head hitting,
knuckle biting, or aggression towards others. This only happened once a month or so, always
when he had a headache, or when he was startled. I was on a wait list for 18 months and I finally
got into a psychiatrist who diagnosed Lucas with an autonomic nervous system dysfunction. He explained that when Lucas was in pain,
like a headache, or a distress after being startled, like during a fire drill, he would
go into fight mode. There’s that fight or flight reaction. Unlike some people who would pass out from
pain or stress and go into flight mode, Lucas would become aggressive to himself or others
when he was startled or in pain and he would go into fight mode. That was part of his autonomic nervous system
dysfunction. Luckily, the doctor had already treated 40
patients with autism who also had similar nervous system issues and the treatment was,
and still is, a cardiac med, a beta-blocker to calm the nervous system down. Lucas has been on this medication for three
times a day for four years now and he’s no longer aggressive towards others and rarely
engages in self-injurious behavior, only when he’s in pain pretty much or has an infection
would he engage in SIB. We have to be really careful about keeping
track of all of this to prevent any serious problem behaviors. The doctor who ordered this beta-blocker medicine
also ordered a genetic pharmacological swab test through a company with the website This swab test which showed us all different
medications, like pain medicine, antipsychotics, anti-seizure medication, all the medication
he could possibly be on and linked it to his … Linked how Lucas would respond to each
medication based on his unique DNA. Through this test, which can be very expensive
if it’s not covered by insurance, but we made sure it was covered by insurance. We did the test, swab test, and now we have
a record of pretty much any medication and how Lucas would do. Through this test, we learned that Lucas would
do okay with older antipsychotics, but the newer antipsychotics would cause side effects
and issues, including weight gain. This made a lot of sense, because when we
tried the newer antipsychotics in the past, like Risperdal and Abilify, it would always
backfire. Through his report, his DNA report, it showed
that those kind of medications were in the red zone. This report is a green med, that’s totally
fine. A yellow med, which needs to be used with
caution. Or a red med. It’s no wonder that Lucas had problem behaviors
related to these newer antipsychotics. Now that I told you about Lucas’s medication
journey, I have a few tips for you. Number one, if you’re not a physician specializing
in pediatrics, autism, and/or mental health, you shouldn’t be telling parents to medicate
their child. Even though I’m a nurse and my husband’s a
physician and we were in a maze for many years, until we found the right supplements and the
right medications. I kind of freak out when someone says, “His
teachers said I should put him on meds.” Like the MD who diagnosed Lucas with autism
recommended, ideally your child should be receiving good behavioral treatment before
starting any trials of medication. That’s my second point. My third tip is medications and supplements
should be added one at a time preferably so you can check both the positive changes and
any side effects. To keep a close eye on these, I recommend
keeping a dedicated calendar with problem behaviors, new supplements or meds, changes
in dosing. I have years of calendars for Lucas and I
continue to bring Lucas’s calendar to his doctor’s appointments and this has been extremely
helpful and important to getting Lucas on the right track. Number five, get out of the mindset that all
biomedical supplements are pseudo science and that all traditional medication is good. Each child is different with different symptoms
to treat and every supplement and traditional medication could cause side effects. Number six, ask your doctor about doing a
swab test through or a similar site. There’s a couple different companies that
run these pharmacological tests. This might help guide you and them in making
better decisions, especially if your child is currently on any medications, especially
children who are on a cocktail of medication if they’re not doing well. I would love it if you would leave me a comment,
give me a thumbs up and share this video with others who might benefit. To download my free three step guide which
details how to keep your own calendar data and to learn more, go to I hope to see you right here next week.

17 Replies to “Medication & Dietary Supplements for Autism – Should You Use Them?”

  1. Thank you very very much… I am from India & followed some of your tips/suggestions religiously and my 4 yr old has shown great improvement in problem behavior within a month. I bought your book too. Hoping to see much more betterment soon.

  2. Hi Mary, i'd love to know the exact name of the swab test that lucas did. As always, thank you for sharing your personal experience and always sharing, in my opinion the best professional advice.

  3. Hi Mary, thanks for your wonderful videos.
    I need to ask that all the kids on spectrum have unbalance ratio of zinc and copper?? Do I need to go for blood test first or can i just start eliminating copper from diet. As my daughter is 4 year old, really don't want to go for blood test for her.

  4. Wondering why you don't mention diet & nutrition, gut & brain connection. Yes every child is different with Autism & needs to be treated as such. I just feel this isn't talked about as much & really wish parents, doctors, etc.. Would get educated in the cause, not just the signs in Autism. Nutritional value could probably be a lot more beneficial for them & everyone else. Can you do a video on the value of nutrition, how certain foods such as dairy/gluten could be a major factor in Autism? Or anything on like it it…

  5. I noticed my son has improved slightly on fish oil, vitamin d, transdermal folic acid b vitamins and vitamin d, as well as dehydrated vegetables and fruits mixed in juice or water. It may be a coincidence that correlates with a natural progression based off of aging, who knows. Can't hurt unless I overdose him. I'm also an RN so I am very careful with this.

  6. My granddaughter has aspergers and she is high functional, but their are still problems. She has some stimming, and some yelling out the same phrase for years. Meds did nothing. What bothers her the most, is no friends, shes 22.The doctor that finds a cure for autism spectrum disorders should be named as a saint!!!!

  7. Thanks !! Love you, Dear! I am a certified Adapted physical Educator APENS Board ..Also A Certified Special Educator Rehabilitation Council of India ..I do practice as a Therapist Unique Teaching Training Autistic kids learning through sports activities ..many sensory perceptions also addressing Behaviors and anxiety issues prevailing with Autistic kids Also many times noticed weak extremities that is a lacking in appropriate functioning leading to behaviors due to anxiety issues of inability in functioning etc ..maybe motor processing or coordination strengthen..? Most of the time Autistic Families are Abused by Service providers @ large Medics & Schools @ Business.? Indian Government must take things seriously NOW???

  8. Thanks for all this information, can you talk about your point of view of CBD for Rx of autism and if you have tried it. Thanks

  9. Did you opt for the homeopathic LDA allergy shots or through a conventional allergy specialist? We do the LDA and it’s helped my son so much, his ND said it really helps these kiddos with inflammation and we’ve noticed a subtle increase in speech and decrease in behaviors since beginning. Great video!.

  10. I’ve never heard of copper being a negative effect & zinc being a positive for people like me with autism so thank you for mentioning it to me & I will try it.

  11. PlEase write coppa down and senk
    So I can translate it into Germany. This video was hard for me to understand
    Thank you

  12. There's no point in giving children with autism any type of supplement if you dont fix leaky gut first. So many kids on the spectrum have leaky gut and the supplements are never absorbed and used. Until you fix the intestinal permeability through something like the GAPS diet, then giving them any type of supplement is a waste of time.

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