Psychologists who have worked inside the system describe a culture in which the drugs are used to control the disruptive behavior of the developmentally disabled — people with conditions like autism, Down syndrome and cerebral palsy — an approach increasingly discredited in the field. ...
The drugs can have serious consequences. Risperdal, the second most frequently prescribed, was developed to treat psychotic disorders and has been approved for controlling aggression among people with autism. But its side effects can be extreme, including breast growth in adolescent boys, which in a small number of cases require mastectomies.
And even the use of the drugs to control behavior is questionable. A 2008 study published in the medical journal The Lancet found that psychotropic drugs like Risperdal were less effective at treating behavioral outbursts than placebos.
Dr. Roy Q. Sanders, who is the medical director of the Marcus Autism Center in Atlanta and has worked in New York, said, “I tell people all the time that the medications are really blunt tools when it comes to making substantial differences in behavior in developmentally disabled individuals.”