Things that have helped Autistic adults with their happiness, stability and general health to optimise life.
As I always say in my other blogs, Autistic Adults are often best advisers to help us understand our autistic kids and help them reach their potential.
In this blog I am going to focus on complementary and alternative therapies and medicine, lifestyles and diets which have made a big difference, therefore could be a big aid to your child. Note, this is not to cure, or to repress or lessen any traits, but may well help with behavior and general happiness for all the family.
Gut problems and diet changes –
Anyone, autistic or not can have stomach problems. Gut problems though, appear to be more common with Autistic people percentage wise, than the general population, therefore it can be seen as a co morbid condition for some people on the spectrum, but as I have mentioned before it isn’t always. Therefore it makes sense that we address this issue:
Our first contributor is Kate. Like me, she has an interest in science and likes debunking various fads:
“Dietary changes, I’m thinking this could have effects in a couple of ways:
(a) If a legitimate *medical* doctor diagnoses allergies or intolerences, for sure those foods should be avoided! Having food allergies myself, I can assess to how shitty those will make a person feel (especially with gut symptoms), and I find feeling unwell contributes a lot to how easily I’ll get overloaded, how well I can pay attention and process information, and how much I can stay engaged socially.
(b) Even without allergies or intolerences, changes in diet could be helpful if it’s toward a healthier diet that ensures good nutrition. People often get caught up in things like going GMO-free or organic, which are unfortunately expensive gimmicks; but if the move is from a high fat, salt, sugar diet to one with healthy amounts, it’s likely the person will have more energy to pay attention, learn, and engage. The major caution I’d give them is to not follow a very restrictive diet except under supervision of their *medical* doctor or qualified dietician (not a naturopath or nutritionist), as those can lead to nutritional deficits”
Fiona says “I think food changes if you are sick are important like you said.
Anyone in pain will lead to having behavioural differences”
“I can only speak for myself here. Eating whole foods, ie, fresh or frozen vegetables, wild omega 3 fatty acid filled fish, some whole grains and fresh eggs helps me avoid problems with lack of motivation, fatigue, foggy brain and gut pain.
In my child hood, I was fed only easy, quick to prepare packaged foods, and I felt horrible and was often sick with some kind of infection.
Since I’ve went to eating my own home cooked old fashioned meals, including bacon, I’ve felt a whole lot better than I ever did in my youth”
Catharine sees the benefits of being “gluten free and dairy reduction”
Karen says “In my case, vitamins, minerals, food have made a huge difference for the quality of my life due to a mineral metabolic disorder. Ion channelopathies in my opinion are hugely underdiagnosed and misdiagnosed. They are genetic in origin and devastating in their affects. I would never have thought what I ate and or didn’t eat was the cause of most of my problems, sensory processing disorder, muscle weakness and so much more” I mention Channelopathies in my other blog An Unqualified mother’s opinion of Autism Treatments
Laura says “I have started to eliminate all processed foods out of my diet. I have severe gut issues and have most of my life. I shop the (outside) of the grocery store… It helped but I needed more. I have also begun using a turmeric paste that has started to change my life. It decreases my pains, gut issues, and that in turn makes it easier to process my world when I am stressed. Here is the site so you can look over the info to see if it helps issues you have.
Harold says “Some herbal teas help me when I don’t feel good” Anna say “I usually drink rooibus (red) tea. I find it far more calming and relaxing.i also have some pretty relaxing tea called “exhale” (I believe that coffee bean/tea leaf is who makes it) and it has valerian root in it, among other thing”
Lynette “Exercise, no sugar, alkaline water and wheat grass juice every morning. No animal protein or dairy. This diet keeps away (for me and I have heard testimony from others): asthma, acid reflux, joint pain, brain fog”
Anna expresses that as a child she assumed everyone had sore stomachs frequently like she did, and only as an adult she realised that if she avoided certain foods she can avoid the foods that cause her pain.
These are all benefits certain diet changes have given some Autistic Adults. It is perhaps something worth to think about especially if your child does have “gut” issues
Liane says “I have used the Bach Flower Remedies for around 25 years, which have helped with understanding emotion and ultimately myself………”
Eva says ” I use herb Borago officinalis, in times of highest stress, it decrease level of anxiety and helps fall asleep at night. But should not be used all the time.”
Harold says “St. John’s Wart seemed to help my meltdowns but really just kept me in a fog that made it hard to work my job”
Fiona says “I had awful anxiety as a teen and young adult.
Mum tried all that natural stuff never helped but cost a fortune”
Alternative / Complementary Therapies
First Kate again with her wise words “Anything that has us feeling more relaxed likely does have follow-on effects of reducing our needs to anxious-stim, better sleep, reducing sensory & emotional overload, helping us with emotional regulation, etc.. That said, some Autistics (like me) are very uncomfortable with touch and these therapies could increase anxiety rather than reduce it. I really hope the parents will respect their child’s boundaries with that sort of thing”
Liane recommends meditation as something that has helped her anxiety.
Catharine says “Chinese acupuncture massage, meditation, gluten free and dairy reduction, self defense class (very empowering) spa treatments”
Freya feels Acupuncture has been of benefit to her.
Anna says “I do yoga, I just need to do more of it. For some autistics it may be problematic though, like for those with coordination or mobility issues, or have conditions like ehler-danlos syndrome”
Fiona says “I just worry about the money people spend on remedies with no evidence. If people feel better with complimentary therapies that is good but many of these alternative practitioners tell people they can do wonderful things for their ailments and this can lead to a hamster wheel which sadly can leave a huge dent in your wallet. I think that’s important to mention.
They may not harm but can mislead. My own view and with experience from complimentary treatments is they don’t do much but give you false hope.
In life we tend to apply bandages for all our wounds when sometimes the best thing is to face that wound and see why it’s their in the first place.”
M also reminds me at this stage that the above complementary and alternative treatments and medicines would result in very similar answers in the general population, which is very true and anything applied must be done with autonomy. The next section I think is a bit more exclusive to Autistics
Importance of “Me time”
Many of the people who kindly answered my question described as having time to to be themselves, on their own hobbies and interests very important, very often essential in relieving anxiety and being happiest.
Anon says (sorry I forgot your name and where you posted this) “Various techniques for sensory optimisation, such as weighted blankets, and pre-emptive stimming, including relaxed rocking and writhing (earplugs in, pressing eyes with palms of hands), were also helpful, especially when I needed to get through long days of teaching. I would finish up lunch quickly so that I could go and stim for at least ten minutes in the furthest toilet to be ready for the afternoon sessions.
Lianne “getting a good education in my chosen subject of obsession has helped me with clarity of thought and understanding….” Kate agrees with this.
Penni finds meditation really helps
Kelly “If I’m stressed to the max for dealing with a lot of people, what helps me is to plug into some music, do some sculpturing, and if it’s not raining, or absolutely cold out, I’ll spend a few hours outdoors in a natural area well away from any groups of people.
Ken says “Meditation, martial arts, puzzle solving, building machines (cars, computers, etc), listening to music, watch movies, etc. Anything to focus on one sense instead of all of them at once makes me feel at peace.
Matt says “Music is one of the focal point in my life that I can always go to, to center myself when I am having a meltdown. It can be both passive and active for me as sometimes I am content to just put on some music to listen to and calm down or just to refocus.. Other times I will pick up the guitar or bass and just play. I guess you could say its almost meditative.. But meditation for me is hard when in meltdown mode. Have only ever been able to clear my mind when I am at my most calm. Reading is also a great way for overcoming situations”.
“Well, general things would be self-defense, Music in all it’s forms (even just listening), and anything creative (drawing, building, etc.)” says Shara
Freya enjoys gardening.
Being Accepted for who you are
A common theme with most of the people I asked is that they are definitely happiest, and have the least stress when people accept them for who they are, quirks and all. Freya is happier now she has eliminated negative people from her life. Kate expresses the importance of parents accepting kids for the way they are. Anna gets great support from her partner. Julianne expresses that good mentors are important, that encourage you in your life, and not treat you like a victim. Shara praises her family for being good support. Harold is happier now he split from his ex partner, received his diagnosis and can now advise people to ‘back off’ when they are stressing him out. Kozmo and Ryker both feel more at peace now they have accepted themselves as transgender and getting hormone treatment.
Marie and Kate have both seem the benefits of counseling.
Some felt happy being in contact with Autistic organisations in their area.
Anna says ” In my case I found out that someone in my city was starting an ASAN chapter, so I joined. I have finally found my peoples and they are my tribe. Everything is so right and they are so accepting. Any other “replacements” to knowing people who are like myself just isn’t enough.
Chen says “Attending Autistic-run events, such as @Autscape, and participating in Autistic-run organisation’s, such as the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, helps a lot of us.”
Shara says “I would suggest getting a bunch of autistic kids together, and let their parents socialize as well. Some autistic parents thrown in would probably help the others figure it out”.
One thing that has a common theme with everyone is that coping techniques are very much mastered in Autistic adults, as long as they are allowed the freedom to be themselves. Many have sensory aids such as weighted blankets, alone time to decompress, time to enjoy special interests. Understood by others that this is a very much essential need. Remember Autistics live in a world for non-Autistics, where lights might be extra bright, noises deafening, social expectations sometimes overwhelming. In order for life to be easier for everyone, we as non-Autistics must respect this. Learning various techniques to help your kid with coping techniques will help, but forcing them to comply in a non Autistic world without seeking coping strategies will not.
I know it can be hard to implement these techniques, especially if you have other children. In fact a few people did admit that life became easier once they had left the family home, but having this information stored in you brain, you will know exactly what you are striving for. Perhaps when your non Autistic kids reach about 6 or 7 they can learn to be a little helper, like getting those sensory aids, specialist interests and respecting “alone time”. Teaching them as early as possible too can only be a bonus.
David sum this up nicely “I give myself time at the end of everyday to separate myself from stimulation and decompress with positive triggers. i have a good memory, so I never kept a journal and use the positive triggers to help me calm down after a day’s worth of overwhelming stimuli. I use tea, incense, soft blankets, relaxing music, Christmas lights, turn down the lights, maybe read a book, watch a documentary, watch cartoons, or a watch a movie. I like to go on hikes when I can to “get away”, and the exercise produces all sorts of endorphins to make me feel good.”
I will also leave you with some great advice from Anna:
“I always find it weird and disconcerting when people talk about stopping or repressing autistic traits, because 1) not feasible to expect someone to pretend to be something they are not for your comfort. 2) putting the cart before the horse. A lot of what is considered “autistic traits and autistic behavior” is usually consisting of sensory overload or attempts to cope with the intense world surrounding that person. Which means that it will be more pronounced the more stressed out a person is. So instead of hawking compliance, emphasis should be placed on dealing with those stressers, whether it be by accommodation, addressing it, problem-solving it, doing something about it basically. The end goal should be for that person to be the best version of themselves they can be. If someone is in pain, obviously they won’t be operating at 100% capacity. Every stresser and sensory problem, it’s like the task manager or process viewer on your computer. It tells what is running on the computer at that time, how much cpu and memory each thing is taking up while running. You get too many stressers for the autistic person, they crash from overload.they run out of system resources to manage it, like with the computer”.