A campaign is underway to prevent those with autism and learning difficulties being administered chemical cosh drugs to manage their condition.

Stopping over medication of people with learning disability, autism or both – known as STOMP, has been launched by the NHS and other healthcare providers to stem the amount of psychotropic drugs given to children and adults with a range of autism spectrum conditions who exhibit challenging behaviour.

South Essex clinical commissioning boards have joined the campaign and endeavouring to educate health providers and families on the proper use of such drugs and the alternatives.

Around 700,000 people in the UK are thought to be on the autism spectrum.

Public Health England says that every day about 30,000 to 35,000 adults with a learning disability are taking psychotropic medicines, when they do not have the health conditions the medicines are for. Children and young people are also prescribed them.

Among those backing the campaign are NHS England, the Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the Royal College of GPs.

If taken for prolonged periods the drugs can cause weight gain, tiredness and serious physical health problems. These include anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, hyperactivity and mood swings.

There is an accepted place for the use of such drugs, particularly if they manage a specific symptom such as hyperactivity to enable a child to focus in class. However, difficulties often arise because of the condition itself, which manifests itself in a myriad of ways so that one-size-fits-all options are often inappropriate.

At the age of 16, Dawn Avery’s autistic son, Aston, was prescribed anti-psychotic drug Abilify, commonly used for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Mrs Avery from Fairleigh Avenue, Pitsea said: “Aston was prescribed Abilify for behavioural problems but it made him suffer badly with depression. His whole demeanour changed overnight. He wasn’t with it and it was like he wasn’t really in the room. We were desperate at the time and thought we would give it a try but in the end we decided not to go down the drug route

“It was awful and in the end we weaned him off it ourselves.”

Now 27, Aston has blossomed into a confident autism awareness campaigner and charity worker and even gave presentation at Castledon School, in Wickford, where he was taught from age five to 16.

He is proof that with hard work and dedication those with autism disorders have much to give to society.

Modern tools currently helping transform the lives of autistic children include Smartstones Touch, a handheld, stone-like device that connects to a mobile app and allows non-verbal children to communicate their feelings in pre-programmed words. Music has been proven to help autistic children broaden their social and emotional skills, and Synchrony, a drum-like device helps them engage with others by responding to touch and only playing calming sounds.

Skoog is another musical device, allows users to start creating music without lessons or prior knowledge. It also connects to an iPad.

South east Essex CCG’s would not provide details of measures being taken as part of the campaign to explore alternative treatments or how many autistic adults and children are currently prescribed psychotropic drugs.

However, a spokeswoman said: “The NHS and local partners are working together to ensure that all patients with learning difficulties and/or autism, receive the right medication, for the right reasons, at the right time; in line with national STOMP guidance.

“This is predominantly about increasing education with all health care providers reviewing and improving the use of psychotropic medicines (medicines to affect how the brain works and this includes medicines for psychosis, depression, sleep problems and epilepsy and sometimes they are also given to people if their behaviour is seen as challenging) by offering non-drug therapies and making sure that people, families and staff, are fully informed and involved.”

The NHS advises people not to stop taking your medicine or change it without medical advice but instead ask for a medication review.