Stigmas about medication affect those who rely on medications to enhance their life.
By Dana Trick
I’m going to be honest. I have a love-hate relationship with the fact that I have to take focus medication.
I already know that medication in all forms is a complicated and divisive topic in topics related to mental illness as well as disabilities. On one hand, medication helps people maintain their health (either mental or physical), yet on the other hand, the word “drugs” is too often associated with “drug abuse” and “addiction,” which is uttered frequently with the currently worsening opioid crisis.
While there is no denying there are a numerous number of prescription drugs that can inflict damage on a person’s life, I personally feel this current perception of drugs and medication is too black and white.
There seems to be a notion that if a person must be completely healthy and fully functional in body and in mind, they must not take any form of medication.
However, this viewpoint is completely misguided as medication (when prescribed and handled carefully) is to help a person treat whatever medical condition they may be diagnosed with. While medication for physical diseases and disabilities are understandable to many typical people, medication for mental illnesses and non-physical disabilities are more criticized for being an easy way to treat complex problems.
Ableism and Medication
I feel there’s this unreasonable taboo about taking medications for mental illnesses and disabilities, like anything mental-related should be fixed with a new attitude, new therapy treatments, new techniques, or just working harder.
While some individuals with autism respond to various learning and social techniques regarding how they interact with the world and how they manage their autism, non-medical treatments don’t work out for some people and sometimes their autism requires medical treatment such as taking medication.
Every single brain of every human being has developed differently due to various circumstances that are beyond a person’s control, and function differently than others where they were either missing some of that or had too much of this, which may make it harder for a person to communicate their emotions, understand certain situations, how they see themselves, or make it more difficult, as in my case, to focus.
Medications are both a great help and a great burden
The types of medication that many autistics needs costs a lot of money, and a lot of autistics like me don’t have high-paying jobs or have insurance to help them buy expensive prescriptions.
Additionally, there is a popular misconception that it’s okay for adults to take pills and it’s horrible for children to take medication. Many people think it’s a sign of bad parenting for parents to give their autistic children medication. Being young and having a disability is such a chaotic time for both the children and the parents. Parents are humans too and there’s so much they could do with their limits for something they’ve either been misinformed about or haven’t heard about before.
While therapy is a good thing, it doesn’t mean that it is the only definitive treatment that solves everything. Some children need additional treatments such as medication to enhance their lives. Of course, the dependence on medication for their autism could lead them into thinking that they can’t function without it or feel like their true selves are being snuffed out.
In my case, I’d always hated taking my focus medication growing up.
Social stigma around children taking medication
For instance, when I started going to friends’ sleepover parties and I had to take my pills in the following morning, I became aware of the oddity of a kid taking pills. Although none of my friends said anything about it, I felt odder and a little bothered by it until fifth grade with my school’s Red Ribbon Week. (For those who don’t know, Red Ribbon Week is annual program in schools in the United States where they educate kids not to do drugs—or aka, continuously tell the kids to repeat “I’m gonna live drug-free forever” and give them activities that related to that mantra.)
I didn’t know why it wasn’t until fifth grade that I connected my use of medication and Red Ribbon Week and started to see myself as one of the drug abusers the school told horror stories about.
Nonetheless, even after coming to that realization, I still took those pills my doctor prescribed to me because they helped me focus so I could do well in school.
Eventually, I came to understand I wasn’t one of those drug abusers yet I feared that if I continued taking these pills, I would eventually become addicted to them.
So, during my last two years at high school, I stopped taking my focus pills on weekends. I thought this would help me prevent any chance of becoming addicted to my pills and that over time I would eventually focus without the pills.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
When I entered university, I had underestimated the workload and was forced to take my pills on weekends.
In addition to the fear of becoming addicted to drugs, my focus medication is super expensive to buy which makes me feel guilty as my parents have to pay a huge amount of money for these pills. While I love my autistic self and deeply hate the thought of a discovery of a cure for autism, paying high prices for these pills makes me wish I was born “normal.”
I hate taking these pills but I know I need them to focus and to be myself.
I love my autism but I need medication
I love my autism and hope it will help me become a published author and a museum curator, but I need these pills to help achieve it.
The issue of medication is a complex mess with so many factors such as controversies about the pharmaceutical industry, over-prescribing medications, and general ableism in society – which I am not qualified to argue or inform based on the little knowledge that I have on the subject, but I hope that this blog post and the comments made under it can help someone better understand medication and autism.
Editor’s Note: The Art of Autism does not endorse medical treatments and recommends consultation with a personal physician about medication or other interventions.
Dana resides in Moorpark, California. She spends too much of her time reading books (fantasy, fiction, history, poetry, comics), drawing weird things that suddenly appear in her head, writing stories and poems and listening to a strange assortments of music genres that she isn’t sure what type of music fan she is.