Medication and Autism – A study of Foucault

“If you can’t sit still during speech therapy, you’re attacking the teachers, you’re not going to be able to take advantage of it,”

I am writing a paper right now on medication and autism for my psychology class.  One of the main things that is being attempted to medicate is the irritability and temper tantrums of autistic children (ages 0-17).

In one study conducted, they found that 65% of autistic children ages 0-17 are prescribed psychotropic drugs.  Most of these are antipsychotics, namely risperidone.  Risperidone is used to treat temper tantrums and irritability.

Now, there are two ways you can see those behaviors: 1) they are bad and need to be medicated or 2) they are the autistic person’s only means of communicating and resisting what is being done to them.  While I can agree that some of the behaviors are bad, I think those behaviors can be eliminated if we try and understand what they are trying to say (beyond just assuming they are tantrumming because they want their way).

I subscribe to the idea that autism is just another way of being in the world (it may be different from most of the other ways of being in the world, but it has just as right as any other way to exist).  If autism is not a disability and irritability and tantrums are the only way an autistic person can communicate and resist what is being done to them, think about what this medication, which is used to stop the irritability and tantrums, is doing.

I would like to make an analogy here that is not meant to offend anyone, but it is a valid analogy.  Think of autism like a subculture with its own similar language use and communication styles.  If we were to medicate African Americans to stop them from being frustrated or irritated when they experience racism, there would probably be an uproar from much of the community.

So, one more question: why isn’t there uproar here?

So, I am guessing at this point you are wondering: how does Foucault come into this?  Good question!  Foucault talks about docile bodies in his book “Discipline and Punish.”  Docile bodies are beings that blindly follow directions with no questioning thoughts going through their head.  Therefore, these autistic kids are being medically docilated (a word I just made up yesterday when talking about this with a friend) so they can be docile bodies while being trained “how to act and think like a neurotypical.”


One thought on “Medication and Autism – A study of Foucault

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  1. Even the wording implies the approach. “Irritability and tantrums” both carry a pejorative, “geez kid what is wrong with you?” connotation. Whereas if we called them something that didn’t implicitly blame the kid, we might be more inclined to read them as communication.


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