A West Des Moines psychiatrist claims to use a "miracle drug" that improves symptoms of autism.

Dr. Randall Kavalier prescribes the drug "Namenda," which is designed for and marketed to Alzheimer's patients, to children who have autism or who suffer from brain injuries. Dr. Kavalier claims that Namenda clears up the interference among signals to nerves in the brain. Dr. Kavalier said that while elderly brains have long finished developing, children's brains are still being molded. He said that, in many cases, after children swallow a few pills, "They light up. I mean, they turn on."

Before you read any further, you should know (and Dr. Kavalier acknowledges) that many other child psychiatrists disagree. They think it may be dangerous to prescribe Namenda for something other than what it was intended. An email from an anonymous person who claimed to be the parent of an autistic child said they said that their child suffered "months of horrible side effects" as a result of taking Namenda. That being said, Dr. Kavalier insists that "it's like patients start talking...suddenly."

Greg and Stacy Brakefield believe in Namenda. Three years ago, a trip to a water park hotel was out of the question for the couple from New Germany, MN. Their daughter, Mackenzie, suffers from a brain injury. She nearly suffocated as an infant. Stacy said, "We were told she wouldn't walk. She wouldn't see. She wouldn't really be a very normal functioning kid."

One year later, the Brakefield's son, Josh, was born with autism. Greg and Stacy said that they found their miracle in Namenda. "It is a miracle drug," said Stacy. "Am I going to say it's a cure for either one of the things my kids have? I wouldn't say cure. I'd say it's a thing to help the journey be easier. That's what I'd call Namenda."

Tony and Amanda Gross agree with the "miracle" claim. The Gross's said their oldest daughter used to scream when they tried to hold her. As Abby Gross grew up, her personality shut down. At a relative's wedding, Abby frowned in every photo. She stopped talking altogether, and by age six... she was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. It is a high-functioning form of autism. Amanda said that Abby's teachers were at a loss. "They didn't know how to help me. You know, they just they weren't sure what to do because they just couldn't get her to respond during class. They had done pretty much everything they could. They had given her as many aides and special help and circumstances that they could and they put her right in the front of the room and, but she would just sit there and she would stare out the window and she would just chew on her tongue with this very vacant look (in her eyes)."

 The Grosses felt helpless. They had a bad experience with a previous medication. Amanda said, "I'm the skeptic. I'm the one that says, 'Wait a minute.' I'm a researcher. I need to find out everything about it." But when a new doctor (Kavalier) suggested a new pill (Namenda), "(Tony and I) looked at each other and we said, 'Okay. We'll try it.' We thought, 'What else do we have to loose at this point?'"

Abby, now age 11, explained what happened just two days after she took the first pill. "I started wanting to talk more. I started wanting to tell... I just wanted to tell about my day to my parents." Tony said, "There's been absolutely no side effects. If she wasn't diagnosed with Asperger's, no one could tell." Amanda added, "We get up and she gets dressed, and she smiles and she talks and she eats and she had friends and she does things. She plays sports. She sings. Our life is, I think, pretty normal."

Dr. Kavalier said that Abby represents the prime example of Namenda's effects. "(Her results were) overwhelming. It was the most profound experience of my career," he said. Dr. Kavalier said that results vary, but that each patient shows profound improvement from the drug from symptoms that baffle parents.

Darrell Huffine was baffled. "You're lookin' for all these answers. Is it the teachers?  Is it the school? Is it, you know, this that, the kids? Huffine's son, Dalton, was diagnosed with Asperger's in fifth grade. When the family took him to Dr. Kavalier, he put Dalton on Namenda. Dalton explained, "When I started taking the pills, my behavior improved so much. I used to get into trouble pretty much three out of five days of the week when I was in elementary school, but now I never get in trouble anymore and (my parents and teachers) see the difference and they praise me for that."

Dalton's progress took several months. But today, at age 13, he takes guitar lessons, plays percussion in the school band, and last fall, he went out for football. Darrell said, "Dalton went from being challenged to gifted at school. So, now it's just a total flip, he's almost a straight A student you know?" Dalton added, "I've thought about my decisions better, like I've thought, 'Is this the right thing to do?'"

Is it the right thing to do?  To put a child on a drug that is not FDA approved for them? Darrell said, "Nobody really wants to drug their kid and you never know what the outcome is, long-term effects." Dr. Kavalier said that long-term means until age 25. He said, "I don't know what will happen if a child takes this medicine until they're 25. It's never happened." Greg Brakefield said, "No matter what level (our children) end up at, we still love them the same, but we just want the best for them like any parent would." Amanda Gross said, "Whatever's going to be an option, I do think people need to know that it's out there, and then they can decide for themselves (if they want to try it)."

Below are some informational links related to this article.

Autism Speaks

Namenda

Dr. Randall Kavalier