- Jason Kenner
Encouraging a Healthy Lifestyle in a Child With Autism
Children with autism face many unique challenges both in learning how and finding opportunities to take control of their health. Those with social, communication, emotional, and fine motor skill differences may not, for example, be comfortable joining a basketball team or discussing their dietary needs with others. As a parent of a child with autism, you have the power to instill healthy habits in your child from their youngest age. The supportive team at Autism Vision of Colorado explains how.
Develop Their Communication Skills
Before you can showcase healthy habits, you have to give your ASD child an opportunity to overcome their challenges and limitations. Look for therapy programs that can help your child learn to be a better communicator and enhance their social skills.
Overcome Eat Challenges
For many children on the spectrum, eating can become a huge challenge. It is not uncommon for children with autism to have numerous food aversions or be highly particular about texture. However, it’s crucial that children intake all major food groups, which include vegetables, fruits, grains, protein, and dairy.
You can help by being a good role model and eating healthy foods in front of them. For example, eat a banana (or drink a smoothie) instead of a bag of chips as an after-work snack. You can also drink water instead of sugary sodas. Making these types of foods available can help fill little bellies while providing energy for little minds and bodies to grow.
Find Ways to Encourage Exercise
There is no doubt of a childhood obesity epidemic throughout the United States. Unfortunately, children with autism are highly likely to experience obesity themselves. Encourage your child to exercise by doing things that do not stimulate their anxiety. If they have an aversion to crowds or loud noises, for example, go for early morning walks if you aren’t in a car-dependent neighborhood. You should also encourage exercise with other ASD kids, and many communities have networking groups you can join.
Use Small Chores to Teach Responsibility
Kids are generally expected to take on chores as they get older, and your ASD child should be no different. Look for simple and safe chores that will not act as triggers, like watering plants and folding or putting away laundry. If you clean using natural ingredients instead of the chemicals found in store bought cleaners, then have your child help with wiping down countertops, too. They may even enjoy watching the same product you use to make their favorite cake (baking soda) clean off the oil off the kitchen counter!
Work Together to Create a Healthy Environment
Children with autism may not prioritize behaviors that others might find socially acceptable, such as cleaning their rooms. Immerse your child into a healthy living environment by keeping your own home clean and uncluttered. You can also make small gestures, such as using bottled or filtered water, having live houseplants, and opening the blinds during the day for natural light, that also uphold your commitment to health.
Support Your Child’s Efforts to Form Relationships
Healthy relationships are a crucial component to living an overall healthy lifestyle. Despite common misconceptions, children and adults with autism are fully capable of forming meaningful relationships. Help your child learn what a loving relationship looks like, which might mean talking about dating on the spectrum or discussing ways that they can grow and overcome their social and emotional differences to be a better friend or partner.
Get a Pet or Service Animal
Animals can be incredibly helpful for many people, but their bond can be especially meaningful for children who are on the spectrum. HABRI explains that animals can reduce stress, help with loneliness, and even help ASD kids develop better social skills. If your family chooses to get a pet or even a service animal, look for high quality, protein-rich food options for them. Air dried food is a great choice because the drying process retains more of the nutrients than freeze drying and processing for canned food. Check it out for more info and even try a sample for your new dog.
Model Good Hygiene Practices
Just as important as all of the above is learning hygiene skills. Keep in mind that many children on the autism spectrum are visual learners. In other words, you can’t just tell them to put on deodorant or to brush their teeth. You must show these habits and engage in them yourself. It can help to create a schedule, as many autistic teenagers are highly regimented.
Support Your Child and their Growth
Encouraging a healthy lifestyle for a child with autism means showcasing healthy habits yourself. From eating well to forging meaningful relationships and exercising, everything you do at home now will help them create a stronger foundation for the future. If you’re still not sure what else you might do to encourage a healthy lifestyle, talk to your child’s pediatrician, who can also offer advice specific to their current health and abilities.