3 Things You Can Do at Home to Help a Special Needs Child

3 Things You Can Do at Home to Help a Special Needs Child

3 Things You Can Do at Home to Help a Special Needs ChildParents of children with special needs, such as Autism Spectrum Disorders or ADHD, sometimes feel powerless when it comes to helping their children. Most of the therapies available to treat these and other neurobehavioral disorders need to be administered and monitored by professionals such as physicians, psychologists and occupational therapists.

Yet, the day-to-day challenges often faced by parents of these children can be overwhelming, especially while waiting to determine if professional therapies are producing desired results.  The good news is that parents do have the ability to implement a treatment modality that will affect a significant part of a child’s life – their diet.

According to the Journal of Pediatrics only 1 % of young people between the ages of two and nineteen eat a healthy diet. While there are increasingly more behavioral therapies available, there hasn’t been enough emphasis on how poor eating habits are jeopardizing the development of a healthy brain. Many children are fussy eaters and exasperated parents will allow their kids to eat anything, “just so they eat”.

However, poor nutrition is a big threat to brain development, because without the necessary building blocks, the brain can’t function properly. When the brain isn’t optimally equipped, the success rate of traditional therapies is reduced and, in many cases, undesirable symptoms commonly associated with neurobehavioral disorders are exacerbated.

Despite mounting evidence, many physicians still dismiss dietary intervention as an adjunctive treatment of these disorders. Some suggest that a healthier diet “won’t hurt,” but they may not necessarily encourage or recommend dietary changes even though it remains one of the safest, least invasive interventions available.

Anecdotally, parents around the world have reported dramatic progress after implementing a specialized diet. Such progress includes improvements in bowel function, behavior, attention, language and sociability. For a large number of children, a specialized nutritional plan is a critical piece of the therapy puzzle. For others, the results may be less dramatic. In a minority of cases, dietary changes do not seem to help at all. But there is no way to determine how dietary changes will affect your child until you implement the changes and allow a few weeks to properly evaluate whether there has been any  improvement.

Here are the 3 ways you can help your child at home:

1)      Eliminate

Eliminating known “food offenders” and suspected offenders is the best place to start. Stop stoking the fire. When the brain is continually irritated by these foods, it can’t focus on tending to its functions.  The most common culprits are gluten and casein but there are several others as well. (I will be covering them in upcoming posts. Subscribe to the blog to have the information delivered to your email once it posts).

Consider having your child tested for food sensitivities. This is different than common allergy testing which may not pick up on milder sensitivities. Food sensitivity testing is usually done by holistic physicians who practice alternative medicine.

If you cannot or choose not to have this testing done, you can try following the “elimination diet” protocol. This involves eliminating certain foods for a period of time, usually three or four weeks, then slowly reintroducing  individual foods and monitoring your child for reactions or return of behavioral challenges.

Once you discover which foods your child is sensitive to, eliminate them from their diet for an extended period of time.

2)      Add

Replace missing nutrients and restore depleted vitamin stores either via food replacements or supplements. For example, if you are removing gluten, you will replace wheat bread with gluten-free bread. If you have eliminated casein by removing dairy products from the diet, add a calcium supplement until you learn which vegetables are rich sources of calcium.

Seek the advice of your physician or nutritionist if you need help developing a balanced diet.  There are also many books available on the market which can help with your meal planning and guide you to boosting brain power through food.  (Again, I will be posting more on this topic in the near future, so stay tuned.)

3)      Teach

Children are inundated with fast food, candy and soda. So the earlier you start teaching them the truth about the foods they are eating, the better. Instilling an understanding of vitamins and other basic nutritional principles can lead to a lifetime of healthy eating habits. This will also help them make better food choices when you are not around.

Use language that your child will understand and can relate to. Explain that food isn’t just fuel it is also information.  Every bite of food you eat sends some sort of message to your body.  And your body responds accordingly.

The thought of implementing a specialized diet can seem overwhelming until you have a simple plan to guide you. By following the E.A.T. model (Eliminate, Add, Teach) you will have the power each day to improve your child’s quality of life and set them up for long-term success. Pacing yourself as you learn and apply the changes will lead to giant leaps for your child. Once you recognize the impact certain foods have on your child’s success in other therapies, you just might be inspired to continue on the journey.

Parents are notorious for saying they will do anything for their child. Even though it seems daunting, would you be willing to try a specialized diet? Have you already embarked on this journey? Have you noted improvements?

To encourage other parents who are considering this option, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear your stories.

 

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Gluten-Free Snowmen and an Aspie Rudolph

Aspie Rudolph

It’s a Christmas miracle really. When I pause from the busy-ness of life to ponder the fact that my highly anxious Asperger’s son tried out for and landed the role of Rudolph in the school’s Christmas program, I really understand how far we’ve come.

Although my son, “A”, is talkative (often times too much) and animated, he is actually quite anxious especially in front of crowds.  Early on in our journey with Asperger’s, his anxiety was hard to manage. Once, my son had developed a white head on his shoulder, of all places, and it was getting large and red and increasingly uncomfortable for him. Being the helpful mom that I am (facetious), I offered to “pop it” for him. As I approached him with my fingers poised, he fainted! Luckily I caught him in time. Lesson learned.

As he grew older, the anxiety would manifest itself in other ways. Periodically our school would put on shows for the parents and each child would be required to perform, either in an individual number or with their class. “A” always showed increasing anxiety leading up to those shows even though he only  was in the class act.  His tics would come back, amplified, and he’d have trouble sleeping. Of course, this led to general uneasiness and unacceptable behavior and he would be difficult to parent.  Then during the performance he would tic so much that it would distract from the hand movements and gestures as part of their routine. But we always encouraged him by reminding him that each parent in the audience was only focused on their own child so no one would even notice his tics.

You could imagine my surprise when he came home and announced he was going to try out for the part of Rudolph in the school’s Christmas production.  Like every protective mom of an Aspie, I encouraged him but I also prepared him for potential failure. “Do your best but if you don’t get the part it’s ok! I’m proud of you for trying!”  Everyday I’d drop him off at school and he’d run to his music teacher (the director) and tell her that he wanted to be Rudolph. She would remind him that he had to audition for the part but he was welcome to try out.  But he wouldn’t let up!  Whenever he’d run into her on campus he’d remind her he wanted to be Rudolph.  One day he came home from school and said that he badgered her so much that she said “You’re stressing me out! The audition is next week. Wait patiently!”  (God bless our teachers).

So as audition day approached, he learned the lines and we would practice them. “Slow down!” I would say as he rushed through the lines he had memorized from repeating them over and over again. “You need to speak clearly so the audience can understand you”.

“Is this funny for grown-ups? Cause it doesn’t seem funny to me” he said after one rehearsal.  “Yes, grown-ups will get it. The way you delivered the lines was perfect!”

I guess I had assumed he wouldn’t get the part because I was shocked at his announcement that he did!  He was so excited! He and another classmate both auditioned and “A” was told he got the part because he was animated which came off as really funny.  The other boy congratulated him on this accomplishment and “A” recognized it as a kind gesture. He also contemplated the fact that he probably wouldn’t have congratulated the other boy if the results were reversed. So it was a great learning experience  all around.

So now, as the “doubting Thomas” turned proud mom-of-a-thespian, it was my duty to come up with an Aspie friendly costume that wouldn’t exacerbate any potential tics that may arise due to his pre-show anxiety.  I searched far and low (well, online) and came up with the costume. I even reached far into the cob-webbed arts and crafts part of my brain and made the “reindeer bling” from scratch. We practiced nightly to get the lines and hand motions just right.  We even did a few dress rehearsals at home so he could get used to the sensations of the costume, the noise of the necklace and the pressure of the antlers on his head. His confidence soared.

Aspie Rudolph

The show is tomorrow. He will be doing 3 performances during the day for all the parents as they rotate through the school at their assigned times.

The challenge: since tomorrow is show day and lessons will not be taught, teachers will be hosting holiday breakfast parties (full of the typically glutinous sugary treats we feed our school children at parties – Ugghhh).  If he pumps himself full of those treats, he will be setting himself up for increased anxiety and untoward reactions.  So I’ve offered to make Gluten-Free Snowmen cupcakes so he can participate in the party.

I bought a yellow cake box mix that is gluten-free. I’ve never worked with it so I was pleasantly surprised at how they looked out of the oven. I’m not gonna lie, after initially mixing the flour with the oil and water, the consistency had me worried.

IMAG0235

Snowman Cupcakes

Overall, they turned out pretty well. I tasted one plain and it was light, airy and not sickeningly sweet. I enjoyed them and will purchase this brand again.  As for the snowmen, they are full of sugar (icing + the embellishments) so we are cheating a bit on the diet. But he is thrilled to get to eat something fun at the party.

Today, I’ve reflected on the fact that I shouldn’t, either overtly or subliminally, put any expectations or limitations on what my son is capable of doing. I should continue to encourage him and instill in him that he is capable of doing ANYTHING he sets his mind to. After all, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us! Phillipians 4:13