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Autism: Hope, Help and Great Tips from Parents
The National Institutes of Health describes Autism - or more precisely the autism spectrum disorders (ASD) -- as “a neurological and developmental disorder that begins early in childhood and lasts throughout a person's life.”
ASDs “represent a broad group of developmental disorders characterized by impaired social interactions, problems with verbal and nonverbal communication, and repetitive behaviors or severely limited activities and interests.”
The term spectrum is used because people with ASD can have a varying range of symptoms. Although there is no specific cause currently known, research suggests that both genes and environment play important roles. Additionally, there is no standard treatment, but a number of therapies are available to increase your child's ability to grow and learn new skills.
A professional diagnosis can be done by psychologists, psychiatrists, developmental pediatricians, pediatric neurologists, or medical geneticists who utilize standardized testing plus a clinical evaluation by an autism specialist.
Realizing your child is ‘different’ is never easy
Daily life will present unique challenges which can feel overwhelming following a diagnosis. Organizations such as Autism Speaks (https://www.autismspeaks.org/ ) can help you navigate this challenging time. They offer regular features on topics ranging from how autism affects your family to day-to-day survival strategies. Diagnosis typically happens around age two. Some children, however, may exhibit signs as early as six months. Early intensive therapy is associated with having a positive effect on development later in life. There are no autism specific medications, but family-centered, behavioral, and educational programs are key. Some therapies include, parent education and training, social skills training and speech-language therapy, Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA), cognitive behavior therapy, and sensory integration/occupational therapy.
Some common abnormalities identified by autism research include hormonal, cellular, and neurotransmitter imbalances. Signs of inflammation, toxins, and changes in cellular structure are also common in individuals with autism. Unfortunately, the combination of these symptoms can create behavioral difficulties.
Conventional medicine vs. Functional medicine
With conventional medicine, the approach is to pair medications with symptoms in an attempt to manage behavior. Functional medicine, however, addresses the underlying cause of symptoms. The understanding of how causes and symptoms are connected is this growing functional medicine approach. Functional medicine is a patient-centered form of care which treats the whole individual, not just symptoms. By examining lifestyle factors in addition to systemic symptoms, functional medicine and chiropractic can help improve and manage health and behavioral issues associated with autism.
- “Autism ... offers a chance for us to glimpse an awe-filled vision of the world that might otherwise pass us by,” Dr. Colin Zimbleman, Ph.D.
- “The most interesting people you’ll find are ones that don’t fit into your average cardboard box. They’ll make what they need, they’ll make their own boxes,” Dr. Temple Grandin
- “My autism makes things shine. Sometimes I think it is amazing but sometimes it is sad when I want to be the same and talk the same and I fail. Playing the piano makes me very happy. Playing Beethoven is like your feelings – all of them – exploding,” Mikey Allcock, a 16-year old who was non-verbal until age 10
- “By holding the highest vision for your child when they cannot see it for themselves, you are lifting them up, elevating them and helping them to soar,” Megan Koufos
- “It takes a village to raise a child. It takes a child with autism to raise the consciousness of the village,” Coach Elaine Hall
As I said, Autism Speaks is a great resource for connecting with individuals and families learning to manage the life changes of an autism diagnosis and cope with symptoms of autism.
Tips from parents who have gone through the process of change following the diagnosis of Autism in a child
- Start therapies early. Many parents find it helpful to move forward knowing their child is engaged in meaningful activities. Free up time to educate yourself as well as you will no doubt be your child's biggest advocate!
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are a ton of support options available for a reason. Others may want to help out, too, and even having someone cook dinner can free up some your time.
- Talk! Find someone to talk to about what you’re going through and feeling and try not to judge yourself. Just find someone who can listen to unburden yourself.
- Find a support group. The connections you can make with other families who understand what you and your family are going through can be invaluable. Support groups are a great source of information as well.
- Journaling can be a great way to reduce stress and improve emotional health. You can also try journaling to keep track of your child’s progress and note techniques that work and those that don’t.
Stress is a normal part of parenting and family dynamics, but stress can be amplified when learning to cope with autism. That is why I go over my Stress-Free strategy is my book called No More Meds. If you would like a free copy you can go to www.drcorinne.tv
Dealing with frustration
Autistic children may not express wants or needs in a way we’d expect, leaving parents guessing to fulfill their desire leading to both parties becoming frustrated. When your autistic child becomes frustrated, they can sometimes become aggressive which can lead to self-injurious behaviors that threaten his/her safety and the safety of other family members.
Additional challenges of getting an autistic child to sleep through the night or eat a wider variety of foods can be physically exhausting and emotionally draining for families. The extreme parenting demands of an autistic child can leave a family disjointed, especially if one parent is constantly staying home to take care of the child.
We know autism can be stressful for the entire family, so let’s take a look at some ways of elevating stressors. The Autism Society of America ( https://bit.ly/2zaChIg ) offers help and support for families dealing with autism. In a special report, Autism Advocate, a number of techniques for helping to cope with stress are discussed.
Guilt, dread, fear
Guilt, dread, and fear are common among parents of autistic children. The only thing within your control is your reactions and interactions with your child and others around you.
Autistic children may lack an appropriate sense of fear leaving you to be on constant alert looking for ways your child may harm themselves. The best thing you can do for yourself is to realize that your child’s autism is not your fault, nor can you prevent every accident. Do what you can and try to make peace with what you can’t.
Siblings of autistic children may also deny feelings of loss or be expected to modify behavior as to not upset the child with autism. Try to avoid using guilt when siblings quarrel as it’s normal for all children to fight with siblings.
Families coping with autism often must lean on a spouse for support, which can add to stress in the marriage. Try to keep in mind it’s more important to thank each other for what each contributes then to blame each other for what they are not doing. As difficult as it might be, make time for each other outside of the home. A strong marriage will go a long way, even a minor semblance of normalcy can help!
Financial burden is all too common for families of an autistic child. Before investing in a new therapy or treatment, talk to other parents for their opinion and look for other options. Guilt spending can also be common. When feeling hopeless, many turn to spending money on unnecessary clothes or toys to help fill a void. Keep in mind that too much of anything can be overwhelming for an autistic child, instead, try to set up a toy exchange with other parents.
Internal, external stressors
Internal stress can be somewhat within your control, external stressors, however, can be more challenging. When dealing with extended family, keep in mind stress was there even before hearing the word autism. They may have been offering advice before diagnosis and may continue after. Remember, this may be new to them as well, and they love your child nonetheless. Extended family often wants to help but simply doesn’t know how to pitch in. You can help them help you by explaining to them what you need from them. It might just be a shoulder to cry on, or someone to finish a household chore you haven't gotten to.
At times, the medical community may seem slow to understand problems associated with autism. Treatments are slowly improving but it may be stressful finding the right treatments for health problems your child cannot describe. Getting the right education for your autistic child can be a huge source of stress. Schools are learning to adapt, but still don’t always offer what your child might need. Fundraisers are a great way to raise money for the in-home help that may not be available in your local school. Autism education often lacks adequate funding, but keep in mind that nobody goes into special education because they hate children or are looking to get rich. Coping with stressful situations requires being organized and prepared. Don’t wait until you are in need of a break to find someone to help! Get to know a caregiver and spend time with them and your child so when you get to the point you need to take a breather, you will feel confident leaving your child with someone you trust.
Staying positive can go a long way and practice makes perfect. The more you practice staying positive, the sooner it will become second nature. I suggest challenging a negative thought such as “People probably think I’m a bad parent,” by instead, asking yourself,
“How do I know that people will think this?” Or “Who cares what other people think? I can do this!”
Remember my favorite quote, “JUST BREATHE!”
Breathing techniques and relaxation exercises can also be useful. Regular practice will help you relax at the first signs of stress which will help you cope with the situation with a clear mind.
If you want more healthy tips you can subscribe to my YouTube channel here https://www.youtube.com/drcorinneweaver. Like and comment on my channel so I will know what tips and topics you want to know about. I am forming a community of people who want to take action in their own health with my social media channels and I want to know what health topics you want to hear.
I hope my column speaks to you and you can wake up each morning with a purpose. What I do every day is a calling, and I give God the glory for allowing His gifts to work through me. I do believe in miracles, because I get to see them every day! For more information you can go to www.nomoremedsmovement.com and sign up for my closed Facebook group #NoMoreMeds-Community for more healthy tips.
Dr. Corinne Weaver
Dr. Corinne Weaver is a compassionate upper cervical chiropractor, educator, motivational speaker, mother of three, and internationally bestselling author. In 2004, she founded the Upper Cervical Wellness Center in Indian Trail, North Carolina. Over the last 13 years, she has helped thousands of clients restore their brain to-body function. When she was 10 years old, she lost her own health as the result of a bike accident that led to having asthma and allergy issues that she thought she would always have to endure. Then, after her first upper cervical adjustment at age 21, her health began to improve thanks to upper cervical care and natural herbal remedies. This enabled her to create a drug-free wellness lifestyle for herself and her family, and she also enthusiastically discovered her calling to help children heal naturally.
Dr. Weaver was recently named one of Charlotte Magazine's "Top Doctors" in 2016 and is now a number-one internationally bestselling author to two books: Learning How to Breathe and No More Meds.
Upper Cervical Wellness Center is known for finding the root cause of health concerns through lifestyle changes, diagnostic testing, nutraceutical supplementation, and correction of subluxation (as opposed to just medicating the symptoms). The practice offers cutting-edge technological care at its state-of-the-art facility, including laser-aligned upper cervical X-rays, bioimpedance analysis (measures body composition), digital thermography (locates thermal abnormalities characterized by skin inflammation), and complete nutritional blood analysis, which is focused on disease prevention.