With all the spooky costumes, scary decorations, eerie noises, and an explosion of sugar, Halloween can be overwhelming for any child and particularly for children with special needs.
Here are some tips for a safe and enjoyable Halloween for your child:
1. Select a costume that combines comfort and fun – Let your child practice wearing their costume at home. This gives you time to make any last minute modifications and time for your child to get used to the costume.
2. Prepare – Many children with special needs do better with a schedule or routine. Write a narrative describing what your child will do on Halloween and visually track where you will go. Read the story several times before Halloween so your child has time to get used to the plan.
3. Practice – Practice trick or treating in a familiar environment. Visit friends and family, if possible, even neighbors.
4. Review positive behavior – Review expectations, such as saying, “Trick-or-Treat!” and “Thank you” and not going inside the home.
5. Have a backup plan- In case there is melt down, consider letting siblings (that might want to go longer) go trick or treating with a friend.
6. Gradual change – If your child has difficulty with change, you may want to decorate your home gradually.
7. Remember, Halloween looks different for every child and you know your child best. Happy Halloween!
Medical marijuana has been touted to cure everything from pain to cancer, but how about as an autism treatment? There is anecdotal evidence that marijuana’s main non-psychoactive compound — cannabidiol or CBD — helps children in ways no other medication has. Now a first-of-its-kind scientific study is trying to determine if the link is real. A clinical trial is underway in Israel to test the benefits of medicinal marijuana for young people with autism. The study began in January at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. The study involves 120 children and young adults, ages 5 to 29, who have mild to severe autism, and it will last through the end of 2018.
Adi Aran, the pediatric neurologist leading the study, said nearly all the participants in the study previously took antipsychotics and nearly half responded negatively. Currently, only two medications have been approved in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration to treat the symptoms of autism. Both are antipsychotic drugs that are not always effective and carry serious side effects.
One major concern is the long-term impact of prescribing cannabis to young patients is the possibility of causing harm to the developing brain; although antipsychotic drugs currently prescribed to autistic children are certainly not without serious side effects.
The strain of CBD that is being used in the study led by Dr. Aran is a high CBD strain or ‘clean 98 percent CBD’. Some anecdotal evidence from other families that have used medical marijuana to treat autism symptoms found that the high CBD strains weren’t necessarily working for those with behavioral issues and found greater success with other strains.
Additional studies will have to be approved to be conducted in the United States before medical marijuana will be sanctioned as a treatment for symptoms of autism and Dr. Aran’s study may be the starting point for additional studies in other countries
Will your child only wear shorts, no matter what the temperature is outside? Or only eat foods that are at certain temperatures? This may be a sign of Sensory Processing Disorder or SPD (formerly known as sensory integration dysfunction).
Sensory Processing Disorder is a condition where sensory signals don’t get organized into the appropriate response. Children and adults with autism frequently suffer from sensory processing whether it is lights, sounds or tastes; temperature regulation may also be an aspect.
The exact cause of Sensory Processing Disorder is not fully understood but many body functions are regulated by neural feedback mechanisms in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus controls things like body temperature, thirst, hunger and releases many hormones. Researchers have noted a diminished grey matter in the region of the hypothalamus in subjects with autism and the sub-region of the hypothalamus that is altered in the group with autism is also responsible for synthesizing oxytocin and vasopressin. Studies have found lower levels of oxytocin in individuals with autism. Oxytocin is believed to enhance social skills, such as trust and empathy, which may be deficient in autism.
The hot summer months may be difficult for a child with Sensory Processing Disorder and he/she may not always choose the best clothing to deal with the heat. Some children will only wear long pants while others hate wearing clothing at all. There are several companies that offer sensory friendly clothing and for the child who will only wear long sleeves and pants, go for natural, breathable fabrics.
It is also important to monitor children with Sensory Processing Disorder to ensure they drink enough liquids. They may not respond to thirst as quickly as a child without the disorder. Track their fluid intake to ward off heat stroke or exhaustion. Also, keep track of the time they spend outside under the sun. Instituting regular shade breaks or taking some time inside can help keep them cool during the worst of the summer heat.
Sensory Integration therapy is another tool to help those with Sensory Processing Disorder. The theory behind Sensory Integration therapy is that specific movement activities such as resistive body work and even brushing of the skin can help a child with sensory problems experience an optimal level of arousal and regulation. This, according to some OTs, can actually “rewire” the brain so that children can appropriately integrate and respond to sensory input, allowing them to understand the stimulus and feel more comfortable.
Being sensitive to those with Sensory Processing Disorder is most helpful as sensory processing issues can put them in a constant state of discomfort. They may be unable to sweat to cool themselves down or may sweat too much for the ambient temperature. It is important to keep in mind that a person with Sensory Processing Disorder does not feel temperature the same way that you do and their discomfort may lead to a sensory overload, shutdown or meltdown.
Most elementary school teachers will confirm that there is a link between sugar and behavior but now scientists are looking deeper into that correlation.
Researchers at The California Salk Institute observed behaviors in pregnant mice that were fed a diet of high glycemic foods versus a diet of low glycemic foods. The mice in the study were specifically bred to demonstrate symptoms of autism.
High-glycemic foods produce a rapid rise in blood sugar and tend to be rich in simple carbohydrates such as sugar (potatoes, white bread and short-grain rice). Low-glycemic foods don’t produce such a blood-sugar spike. They include foods high in protein (nuts, beans and meat) and complex carbohydrates (whole grains and vegetables). Low-glycemic diets have long been recommended for people with diabetes, to help keep blood sugar on an even level.
Though their diets differed, the two groups of mice consumed the same amount of calories and maintained similar weights. After the pregnancy and the pups were weaned, the groups were maintained on the same diet and researchers tested the behavior and brain development between the two groups.
All the mice in the high-glycemic diet group demonstrated autism-like behaviors. They avoided contact with new mice placed near their chambers. They repeated actions with no apparent purpose and groomed excessively. By contrast, the mice in the low-glycemic group showed an overall reduction in their autism-like behaviors. They spent more time near new mice and less time performing repetitive behaviors such as excessive self-grooming.
Researchers continued to look for the differences between the two groups and found that the mice fed the high-glycemic diet had far lower levels of doublecortin- a protein associated with newly developing neurons. In addition, the mice on the high-glycemic diet showed more evidence of gene activity associated with inflammation and higher numbers of microglia (immune cells in the brain).
There is a great deal of research in support of sugar producing chronic low levels of inflammation and more recent studies have implicated inflammation during pregnancy with an increased risk of autism, although most of these studies focused on inflammation during pregnancy. Some researchers have proposed that the chronic inflammation produced by sugar is why diabetes during pregnancy increases the risk of autism in offspring.
Although much research still needs to be continued, a low-glycemic diet is generally considered healthful. Focus Formulations products address this issue by having very little if any sugar added to their products and they are engineered to address nutritionally deficient needs in autistic children. Autistic children often have nutrient imbalances either due to metabolic deficiencies or limited diets and it is prudent for families to work with a nutritionist for the optimal health of your child.