Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Healthy Living Advice for People with Autism

Earlier in the year, I was contacted by Maggie Danhakl from Healthline asking if I would be willing to take a guest post from them. Over the next few months, Maggie and I exchanged emails. We decided on a practical topic that many Autistic people might benefit from.

During this process of exchanging emails, we talked about language and cognitive accessibility, putting identity first and avoiding pathologizing language. Maggie and Adrienne were refreshingly willing to work with me to create a piece tailored to Autistic readers. I am so thankful to them for their time, effort... and patience! When sending me the final draft, Maggie said, "I've done my best to review it through the lens of my friend who has Asperger's. He has taught me a lot about communicating, spoons, and being very literal." 

I am proud to present to you my first guest blog, Healthy Living Advice for People with Autism, by Adrienne Santos.

Healthy Living Advice for People with Autism

Poor eating habits and inactivity are bad for everyone and we could all use some help stepping up our game in these areas.  The following are tips for healthy living geared at Autistics that can you can use to help you feel your best.

Physical Activity and Autism

It can be difficult as an Autistic person to keep a regular exercise routine. Autistic teens and children are not often encouraged to exercise, and grow up to be adults who do not exercise regularly. Not exercising can put you at risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems. [1]Studies show that physical activity lowers the risk of obesity and chronic disease. Exercise can also help Autistics improve motor function, and it can help some Autistic people self-harm less often. Physical activity has also been shown to improve self-esteem, make you feel happier, and can create social opportunities for both Autistic and non-Autistic people. Even with all of these benefits, starting and sticking to a program of regular exercise might be especially challenging as an Autistic person because of difficulty communicating, sensory issues and difficulty trying new activities.

Each person is different with their own set of special requirements and challenges, so offering a one-off solution just won’t do.  The following advice offers a good start:
·         Enlist the help of a family member, a support person or a physical/occupational therapist to help you find an activity that will work well for you based on your own needs.
·         Consider an exercise class or joining a leisure sports team since this allows you the opportunity to be active while enjoying the company of others. Exercising in a group environment also offers a little extra support, encouragement, and direction.
·         Set up a schedule for physical activity and if needed, have someone help you make the arrangements needed so that you stick to a routine.
·         Try an activity that involves repetitive behaviors like swimming or running. Some evidence suggests that such activities are similar to stimming.
·         Work towards a goal, like improving your distance or speed so that you can participate in an organized walk or run. It doesn’t need to be a lofty goal like running a marathon! Start slow and steady. Having a reward at the end helps to keep you focused on your routine.

Eating Well

Just like with exercise, nutrition plays a major role in keeping us healthy. Eating a proper diet helps to keep our immune system strong so that we’re better able to fight off infection and illness, and for those with Autism, a good diet can also help give you extra spoons so that you’re better able to tackle day-to-day activities and challenges. If you suffer with GI issues, like a lot of others on the spectrum do, then a proper diet could help to eliminate your discomfort.

With Autistics, eating a well-balanced diet is often a challenge. For some it can be difficult to set limits on the amount of fatty and “junk” foods, while for others it’s a challenge to get enough food at all. Both can wreak havoc on your health by increasing the risk of obesity or malnutrition. So what’s a person to do? Well, ideally healthy eating habits should be encouraged right from childhood, but for those who’ve grown up with some unhealthy habits, there are things that you can do to help get on the right track.

For starters, keep only healthy foods in the home. You might have to enlist the help of a friend or loved one—who wants to throw out a perfectly good cake or bag of chips, after all?? Buy only healthier versions of your favorite snacks and foods so that’s what you’ve got when you’re hungry.

Cooking can be a challenge, so together with the help of your friend or loved one, choose healthy recipes online that appeal to you and work together to make them. Doing the weeks’ worth of cooking in advance and freezing it lets you have healthy meals that you can just heat up when you’re hungry so you’re not tempted to reach for bad foods in a pinch.

If you’re really stuck on ideas, you can get advice on what to eat for your specific needs from a nutritionist or dietician. Talking to a professional about your diet is an especially good idea if you take medications since some medications have certain dietary restrictions.

You can learn more about diet and fitness by clicking here.

Adrienne is a freelance writer and author who has written extensively on all things health and fitness for more than a decade. When she's not holed-up in her writing shed researching an article or off interviewing health professionals, she can be found frolicking around her beach town with husband and dogs in tow or splashing about the lake trying to master the stand-up paddle board. You can connect with Adrienne on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/writeradrienne.

WARNING: Autism Speaks is cited as a source below. Because I had already taken up enough of the Healthline staff's time asking for edits, and because the information itself is not objectionable, I did not ask them to go out of their way to find another source. However, I do not endorse Autism Speaks in any way and I do not encourage anyone to use them as a source. I have removed the hyperlinks to Speaks' site.


·         Edelson, Stephen M. Ph.D. Physical Exercise and Autism. Autism Research Institute. Retrieved May 16, 2014, from http://www.autism.com/treating_exercise
·         Dawson, Geraldine Ph.D., Rosanoff, Michael MPH. (February 2009). Sports, Exercise, and the Benefits of Physical Activity for Individuals with Autism. Retrieved May 16, 2014, from http://www.autismspeaks.org/science/science-news/sports-exercise-and-benefits-physical-activity-individuals-autism
·         Rudy, Lisa Jo. (December 2011). A Winning Match: Fitness and Autism. Autism After 16. Retrieved May 16, 2014, from http://www.autismafter16.com/article/12-09-2011/winning-match-fitness-and-autism

[1] Dawson, Geraldine Ph.D., Rosanoff, Michael MPH. (February 2009). Sports, Exercise, and the Benefits of Physical Activity for Individuals with Autism. Retrieved May 16, 2014, from http://www.autismspeaks.org/science/science-news/sports-exercise-and-benefits-physical-activity-individuals-autism