Diet, Nutrition, and Exercise
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is commonly associated with a range of health conditions that can be addressed through diet, nutrition, and exercise. The most significant of these include effects on the immune and digestive systems, metabolism, and cognitive functioning. In turn, this can result in a decline in social interaction, a reduction in quality of life, higher morbidity, and premature death.
Eating Disorders and ASD
Eating disorders are common among children with autism spectrum disorders. By consuming high amounts of energy-dense foods that have low nutritional value, their metabolism is altered, causing oxidative radical accumulation, which in turn causes mental and physical decline. In spite of the prevalence of dieting and weight loss among the general population, it can be challenging to communicate to children with developmental disabilities the importance of nutrition. In addition, despite parents’ best efforts, it can be especially hard to effectively change a child’s diet when they will only eat certain foods. In some instances, children with ASD will not eat if their diet is changed or have tantrums and be physically aggressive. It is more important than ever that primary care physicians and parents collaborate with nutritionists and dieticians to ensure their child is eating healthy in order to maintain good health and improve their quality of life.
The decreased physical activities and increased erratic food habits can also lead to long-term health imbalance and societal costs of overweight and obesity in individuals with ASD. When children’s eating habits are not curbed early on, this can lead to additional costs down the road. In addition to regular doctor’s appointments and therapy, parents may need to pay fees to nutritionists, dieticians, pediatricians, and hospital bills if the situation becomes too serious. In addition, it is important to be aware of the side effects associated with your child’s medications and to discuss things like unintentional weight gain with your child’s doctor. The majority of antipsychotic drugs used in the treatment of autism cause weight gain.
Healthcare professionals working with individuals with ASD and their parents/caregivers must recognize their needs to improve their overall health and wellbeing, provide equal access to healthcare, and reduce the likelihood of morbidity and mortality associated with this condition. Children with special needs may not completely understand the concept and the benefits of healthy and nutritious food, so it is our duty to nourish the culture of eating healthy as therapists, doctors, and parents. It is believed that food rich in macronutrients, such as protein, fat, and micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, act as antioxidants and improve the performance of these children.
While pediatricians measure children’s height, weight, and body mass index (BMI) at every visit, very little progress has been made in curbing obesity and promoting healthy eating habits among children with ASD. Evidence suggests that at least 30% of children diagnosed with ASD are obese. As children grow into adolescents and adults, unhealthy eating habits are carried forward, resulting in obesity that deteriorates the quality of life and causes a number of health problems. It is necessary to establish a streamlining of nutrition and physical activity for children with ASD early on. Talk to your child’s doctor to find out more about how you can improve the quality of life for your child with ASD through diet, nutrition, and exercise.
A good oral routine is another healthy habit that should be encouraged from an early age: “Children with autism are likely to suffer many more oral health problems, including tooth decay, gum disease, and dental injury than children without autism.” Check out this great article by Byte A Guide to Dental Care for Children with Autism.
For more blog posts by SOAR Behavior Services, visit soarbehaviorwa.com/family-resources.