Drug manufacturer Hoffmann-La Roche has commissioned an international research study for Balovaptan, a drug that could potentially help people on the spectrum manage everyday social and communication challenges better.
“It’s regulating hormones in our brain that have to do with how we perceive the social world, whether we understand social cues, how we relate to other people, and how we develop close bonds and relationships,” said Dr. Evdokia Anagnostou, the study’s lead researcher at Toronto’s Holland-Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.
The Autism community remains divided on the drug, as one disability rights group in Ontario has raised concerns around whether or not the pill is ethical.
Autistics 4 Autistics Ontario (A4A) is a self-advocacy group for adults with autism, calling for reform to autism funding and services at the federal and provincial levels. Anne Borden, a member of the province’s A4A executive board, tells CityNews the organization opposes the drug and the research, saying it could prey upon people’s hopes and dreams.
“Who is this benefiting?” Borden asks. “This kind of research represents a very old way of approaching autism, looking at autistic people like they’re a problem to be solved or sort of a broken version of normal, rather than taking a position of acceptance.”
Borden said developing a pill for this purpose speaks to the dignity of people with autism, and can negatively affect how they are treated and perceived. She called this a “profit-generating” pill that may put “people from a vulnerable population” at risk, adding that there are ethical questions rooted in its very existence.
“There’s a deep psychological impact when all the people in your life are constantly trying to fix you for who you are and, in this case, gives you a pill to make you act differently,” Borden said.
“It’s not looking at communication as a two-way street. Whereas other ideas like inclusion, accessibility, communication, dialogue, and research into the access needs of autistic people will do that.”