What are GABAergic agents?
GABA stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid, which is a neurotransmitter. GABAergic agents are medications that affect the level of GABA in the brain. Barbiturates and benzodiazepine are examples of these medications.
Other common names for GABAergic agents are acid agents, GABA agents and gamma-aminobutyric agents.
Who are GABAergic agents for?
GABAergic agents can be used by people who suffer anxiety, including autistic people.
What are GABAergic agents used for?
GABAergic agents are usually used to treat anxiety, panic disorders and seizure disorders.
Where does GABAergic agent therapy come from?
In the 1950s, scientists discovered that GABA is an important chemical in the central nervous system. GABAergic agents were developed to treat conditions related to the central nervous system, including the overactive ‘fight or flight’ response involved in anxiety and panic disorders.
The connection between GABAergic agents and autism has been studied since the late 1980s.
What is the idea behind GABAergic agent therapy?
Some researchers think an increase in certain types of brain activity leads to symptoms like panic and anxiety. The idea is that GABAergic agents reduce brain activity by stimulating GABA production and that this helps people cope with feelings of anxiety and panic.
Autistic children often experience physical tension and anxiety, as well as decreased pain responses. It’s thought that GABAergic agents can control these symptoms in autistic children and reduce their aggression and impulsive behaviour.
What does GABAergic agent therapy involve?
GABAergic agent therapy involves taking oral medication on a daily basis. The specific medication and dosage depends on each child’s symptoms.
A specialist medical practitioner like a psychiatrist should monitor a child taking GABAergic agents. The child needs regular appointments with this specialist.
The cost of this therapy varies depending on the brand of drug and the drug dose or strength. It also depends on whether the drug is covered by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and whether you hold a concession card like a Health Care Card.
Does GABAergic agent therapy work?
This therapy has not yet been rated. Also, it’s not yet clear whether GABAergic agents help with autism symptoms.
Barbiturates aren’t usually prescribed, because they cause drowsiness and have the potential to become addictive. Using benzodiazepine can increase behaviour problems in autistic children or cause cognitive ‘dulling’ – for example, memory impairment and lack of motor coordination.
Who practises GABAergic agent therapy?
These professionals can also give you information about the potential benefits and risks of using GABAergic agents.
Parent education, training, support and involvement
If your child is taking GABAergic agents, you need to ensure that your child takes the medication as required. You also need to monitor its effects and side effects, and arrange follow-up visits with your child’s health professional to review the medication plan.
Where can you find a practitioner?
Your child’s GP can refer you and your child to a paediatrician or child psychiatrist.
You can find a child psychiatrist by going to Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists – Find a psychiatrist.
There are many therapies for autism. They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for autistic children takes you through the main therapies, so you can better understand your child’s options.