Parents to autistic children often face challenges providing a well-balanced diet. This is because autistic children often tend to limit their food intake or be picky about what they eat. As a result, such a child is more likely to experience dietary deficiencies.
The importance of a proper diet for any human being, autistic or not, should never be underplayed. The healthiest people also tend to be the ones with the most balanced diets. In the same way, a balanced diet for an autistic child will result in health benefits for that child.
The good stuff
Certain nutrients have been found to be helpful in the management of autistic children. Vitamins and minerals are especially recommended. For instance, some studies have found that multivitamins may help improve sleep and reduce the digestive problems associated with autism. Similarly, some research has found that Vitamin B6 and Magnesium supplements help to improve behavior in autistic children.
Probiotics have also been found to be beneficial for autistic children, especially kids with digestive health conditions. This is because the digestive tract requires a healthy balance of both bad and good bacteria. Probiotics (found in foods like yoghurt) help increase the good bacteria that are only found in low amounts in many autistic children.
However, as a parent, it’s important to understand that every child is unique. As such, it is important to work closely with your doctor when trying to identify what to focus on when it comes to your child’s diet. The first thing you will need to establish is whether your child is in fact experiencing some nutrient deficiency. Once you know this, then you can discuss with your doctor how to resolve it. Your doctor may recommend a diet adjustment or the inclusion of a nutrient supplement.
The bad stuff
Something else that parents to autistic children should be aware of is that certain foods can be problematic for their children. They include:
- Dairy – This has been associated with brain fog, inability to concentrate, spaciness, and numbness to pain. When excluded from the diets of autistic children, bowel problems were resolved and they became more talkative and less hyperactive.
- Gluten – When ingested, gluten can increase systemic inflammation (the body creates antibodies to gluten that can inflame the brain). Parents of autistic children that eliminated gluten from their meals report improvements in symptoms.
- Sugar – This promotes inflammation and increases erratic brain cell firing. Avoiding sugar has been found to improve concentration and reduce impulsiveness, which is great news for parents of autistic children.
- Artificial Ingredients – Researchers have linked the artificial ingredients present in many foods with autistic symptoms. These include preservatives, additives, artificial flavorings, dyes and artificial colors and artificial sweeteners.
These are just a few of the most common things that tend to be problematic for autistic children. Again, every child is unique, so as a parent, you need to take the time to figure out what works for your child. Working with a nutritionist that specifically works with autistic children is also highly recommended.
Strict routines are a common feature for families with an autistic member. However, the benefits of routines are not just limited to people living with this condition. Psychologists recommend routines for everyone as they are associated with lower stress levels, better health and better sleep. But routines are all the more important for autistic children and adults. In fact, they suffer more when routines are not observed. Why?
Benefits of routines
Routines provide a sense of structure and stability to autistic individuals, which in turns help them cope with everyday life. In fact, one of the key evidences that support the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is an insistence on sameness. Generally, they don’t have an easy time adjusting to changes.
A deviation from one’s routine may cause some anxiety in many people. However, for an autistic child, the effect could be multiplied, and the reaction may be enormous anxiety and even meltdowns. These include changes in minute details such as the placement of items, or the order in which certain foods are taken. While it is believed that there is a neurological basis for it, there is still little understanding of the reason why this symptom exists.
When viewed positively, routine doesn’t have to be a bad thing for anyone, autistic or not. Both children and adults with ASD make use of routine or repetitive behaviors that seem oddly obsessive to comfort and calm themselves. It is their way to self-regulate and calm an otherwise anxious mind, and that’s a good thing.
Dealing with changes
Unfortunately, as life would have it, changes are bound to occur. For instance, you may have to cancel a routine activity like going to the park with your child because of bad weather. Or you may have your friends or a member of your extended family visiting your house. The problem lies here, because children with ASD are unable to cope with such changes without help. Parents of autistic children must therefore learn how to manage such situations and prepare for them.
Won’t following a strict routine make the child even more rigid and incapable of adjusting to unavoidable changes? Not at all; reinforcing routines where possible actually helps autistic children deal with the unavoidable changes. The feeling of well-being and stability that they achieve from consistent routine will make it easier for them to handle those unavoidable changes.
It is also important to note that unexpected changes are the most stressful for autistic children. Simply letting the child know before the change happens will go a long way in helping them handle it more easily. It’s also important to note that autistic children tend to be more responsive to alternative methods of communication like visual aids. So it is important to know what works best for your child when communicating; don’t rely solely on verbal communication.
In the middle of a meltdown, it’s important to be empathetic. An autistic child will have a meltdown because that’s what his or her body needs to do – it’s not a form of defiance. That’s why it’s important to give them the time to let it all out with you nearby so they know they are supported. Negative consequences should be eliminated. Instead, teach your child some coping strategies, and then reward them every time they use them to prevent a meltdown.
Parents with autistic children are no strangers to meltdowns. While it may not be possible to completely avoid them, there are effective ways to manage them. However, this requires a lot of understanding and patience from the parent. Understanding why meltdowns occur, how to avoid them when possible and the best ways to handle them is helpful for the parent and child, as well as the people around them.
Why do meltdowns occur?
Most people think that a meltdown and a temper tantrum are the same thing. They are not. Tantrums typically occur when children are angry about not getting their way. In contrast, meltdowns will occur when autistic children are overstimulated or in overwhelming situations. While the former can control their behavior, the latter cannot.
A child with autism finds it difficult to express his or her condition in an appropriate way. They lose their behavioral control and this is expressed verbally, physically, or in both ways. A child experiencing a meltdown may shout, cry, scream, bite, lash out, kick, or even try to hurt themselves. However, meltdowns are not always explosive. An autistic child may also refuse to interact, or withdraw from a challenging situation.
What should I do during meltdown?
This is why a high level of patience is called for. The first thing a child experiencing a meltdown needs is time and space to recover from the overstimulation. A common mistake that genuinely concerned parents or people do is attempting to stop the meltdown rather than wait for the child to recover. You’ll be of much more help if you ask the people around not to stare and move along.
If you can eliminate the trigger, such as a bright light or loud music, by all means do so. This may mean moving your child away from where you are to a quiet place. When this is not possible, you may need to cradle your child to calm them down. However, depending on your child’s sensitivities, touching them may only make things worse. It’s important to do what works for your child, even if that simply means taking away any harmful objects and standing nearby.
How can I avoid or minimize meltdowns?
Figuring out your child’s triggers is the first step towards avoiding or minimizing meltdowns. A journal may be useful for this, where you write down the events that took place prior to the meltdown. You’ll be able to notice a pattern that will point to the trigger. Once you know your child’s triggers, you can avoid them altogether, or take the necessary steps to help them cope should they be exposed to them.
Most children will start to show signs of distress before they have a meltdown. For instance, a child may begin to rock or become very still and unresponsive. Knowing these signs may be helpful in preventing the meltdown. A suitable distraction, such as singing your child’s favorite song or handing them a fidget toy, may be all that’s needed to stop a meltdown in its tracks.
Finally, teaching your child a few coping strategies when they’re calm, such as singing their favorite song or deep breathing, may be helpful in managing meltdowns. Remember to reward your child each time they put this to practice whenever they start to feel overwhelmed.
- Parents to autistic children often face challenges providing a well-balanced diet. This is …
- Strict routines are a common feature for families with an autistic member. However, …
- Parents with autistic children are no strangers to meltdowns. While it may not …