Decreasing Stress for Autism Treatment
We’ve reached the final stage of our 4-D autism treatment plan: De-Stress. This last phase is easily the hardest to implement. Not because the concepts or strategies are complicated, but because decreasing stress for autism management is easier said than done. Every parent with a kid on the spectrum knows how things can spiral from super-chill to ultra-meltdown mode in a matter of seconds. While this may be the most difficult phase to implement, it is possibly the most critical. Everything else we are trying to accomplish with our treatment plan will not be effective in a constant state of fight or flight. Fortunately, there are some things you can do to reduce your kiddo’s stress and therefore ease the burden on their body.
Decreasing Stress for Autism Treatment and Management of Behaviors
- Identify & Reduce Target Stressors
- Try Not to Say No
- Exercise More
- Manage Mom’s and Dad’s Stress
- Sleep Better
- Optimize Diet
- Improve Gut Health
- Detoxify the body
Decreasing Stress for Autism:
1 – Identify & Reduce Target Stressors
The most obvious thing to do in order to lower anyone’s stress is to reduce things that regularly cause stress. We’ve identified specific things that we call our target stressors. We can’t eliminate all the stress on Ethan, but we can certainly do our best to limit them.
Simple Solutions to Simple Problems
There are a few simple and easy to do things that we do to prevent a stressful situation. Ensuring his iPad never dies while he is in the middle of playing, and making sure to clean DVDs before playing them are simple ways to reduce a potentially huge meltdown. We’ve had Ethan throw his iPad after it dies and endured a good screaming fit after his movie got stuck. Another easy solution is to be prepared when heading somewhere new. Packing comfort items & tons of snacks helps give Ethan some type of control over a scary new place. Also, after arriving at a new place, if he “needs” to go to the restroom 5 times in 10 minutes, we take him. Restrooms are familiar. No matter where we are a restroom provides refuge for Ethan and lets him feel in control of new surroundings.
2 – Don’t Say No
A big piece of how we are decreasing stress for autism treatment is to simply avoid saying no whenever possible. Not being able to do what he wants or have what he wants causes massive amounts of stress. Before placing a major focus on reducing stress on Ethan, we would fight him on things a little more. Today, we give up control where we can. For example, Ethan likes to hang out in the car while it is parked at home. For whatever reason, I used to fight this. I didn’t like him hanging out in the car. Probably, because I didn’t want to hang in the car with him, and I did not want him in the garage alone. (too many dangers: tools, sharp things, chemicals…) These days, I now just stop what I am doing, and Kaitlyn and I will go hang with him in the car. Sometimes, I’ll bring in some flashcards or a book and make a short “schooling” session with him in the car.
Our Little Nudist
Clothing will sometimes spark anxiety and stress for Ethan. He went through a phase where he had to either be naked or in his underwear. In the past, we had some battles with him to keep his clothes on, but now we just let him be in his underwear. We still fight him on the nakedness, but thankfully, the nudist phase has largely passed. Lately, he has been quite odd with clothes. He changes his shirt or shorts sometimes 5 times a day. Sometimes he will go back and forth between the same two shirts. I used to fight this a little because inevitably all 5 shirts end up in my never-ending pile of laundry. I’ve yet to figure the reason behind the wardrobe changes, but I just go with it now. It’s better to add to the laundry pile than add to his stress.
He also gets really anxious about other people’s clothes. For example, he hates it when his little brother wears jeans or when his little sister wears a jacket. As the weather gets colder and colder, I will have to address this soon, but for now, I just put Kaitlyn in the car with her blanket on cold mornings. Gavin is happy to change his jeans or simply leave the room until Ethan settles down. Usually, Ethan forgets about it and moves on, but on hard days Gavin changes into his nylon pants. (He such a good brother.)
The Hungriest Boy in All the Land
Food has always been our biggest obstacle. Ethan has always had an insatiable appetite even before we started the basic gluten free diet. Some of this appetite comes from the bad bugs we are fighting, but the kid just just plain likes food.
How did Food cause stress?
Food has always been the spark behind our biggest explosions. If he were told no after asking for more of something, he would become extremely upset. Sometimes he’d just cry while other times he would yell and scream. On really bad days, he would start biting his arms, banging his head on things or similar self-injurious behaviors.
For instance, he found a chocolate bar that was left out. He would say, “I want candy, I want candy, I want candy…” If we were to just say no and take the bar from him (as he was already trying to open it) that would really upset him. Many times this would cause a full-blown meltdown: crying, self-injury, kicking walls and more. The outbursts could last for an hour. Obviously, this reaction is not purely about the food. The inability to control behavior or cause self-injurious behavior is caused by things like yeast (candida) or toxins in the body. Having said that, we do need to prevent this kind of stress, as it would only slow any progress.
Why Not Just Give Him the Chocolate Bar?
Here is where not saying no becomes a little trickier. Now, we only buy organic dark chocolate, so sugar, food quality, or feeding yeast is not the issue. The problem is that chocolate is high in oxalate. Remember from Treating Autism with Diet, Ethan needs to be on a low oxalate diet. Here we have a fine line between causing stress or contributing to his oxalate burden. Typically, we handle this using a couple of maneuvers. First, we take the chocolate and say okay, BUT you have to drink some juice first. (Juice is what we call our nutrient packed veggie smoothie). We will give him a glass or two of juice. Then, we give him one piece of chocolate and put it up. We tell him he can have a little, but that is it. Usually, that is enough. If not, we give him more juice, and then give him a choice between two other snacks.
It’s All About the Juice
For us, the juice is the key to decreasing stress when it comes to food. Ethan can always have more of whatever he wants, as long as he drinks more juice before each serving. It’s full of fat & fiber that will fill his belly and curb his appetite. We all drink it purely because it’s fuel for the body. I add no fruit or sweetener of any kind, which means it’s not the best tasting thing in the world. Sometimes, just the thought of having to drink another cup of juice is enough for Ethan to be like, “eh, I don’t want the chocolate that much”. (He doesn’t actually say this as he’s not that high functioning, but his actions say it)
The easiest way to prevent these types of situations is simply to not have these foods in the house. The whole family has adapted the same diet as Ethan. We used to try and hide foods like almonds, chocolate, or apples that the rest of the family could eat, but inevitably Ethan would find them and then have to have them. We have now removed all foods on the naughty list from the house. This way there is no food in the house that Ethan cannot have, and thus prevents the described scenario from happening. We all eat the same meals and have the same snacks, so this situation rarely happens now.
Decreasing Stress for Autism:
3 – Exercise
As we are removing certain stressors in the house, we are also trying to help him better handle stressful events. It’s well documented how exercise can help relieve stress, and reduce the fight or flight response. We are really working on getting him moving around and exercising.
It’s my iPad Hahahaha!
Ethan is relatively low functioning, so a team sport is not an option for us. But, I do get him to chase me around the house for 10-15 minutes at a time. I’ll steal his iPad and playfully shout, “It’s my iPad hahaha!” and then take off running. He will giggle and chase me up and down the stairs, back and fourth through the house climbing over/under furniture in the process. It usually ends with him climbing on me out of breath collapsed on the floor reclaiming his iPad. Often times, the best way to get my son to exercise is by simply engaging in some type of physically-intense play like this.
I’ll also have him walk up the stairs on his hands, wheel barrel style. The family takes nightly walks around the neighborhood, and I often take him on a quick jog too. I do my best to get him out in the sun whenever possible, but sometimes that seems to cause more stress than it relieves. Especially, now that it’s no longer summer, and water play is not an option.
Decreasing Stress for Autism:
4 – Manage Mom & Dad’s Stress
When thinking about reducing our kid’s stress, we have to consider our own stress management. Often times our kid’s tensions rise and fall in sync with their parents. When we are tense, they are tense. When we’re happy, they are happy. Kids with autism seem to have keen sensitivity to their parent’s mood.
We need to be rocks for our kiddos. When they are having a hard time, we need to help ease them through. We cannot do that effectively if we are in a poor state of mind due to stress. We can manage our stress with the same strategies we use for our kids. Eat well, exercise, reduce target stressors, and sleep more. Of course, our sleep is contingent upon our kids unpredictable sleep patterns, but we can make better choices with our own sleep. For example, do you really want to watch that second episode of Stranger Things or should you get to bed in case your kid wakes up at 3am?
Decreasing Stress for Autism
5 – Long Lost Love: A Good Night’s Sleep
Any program aimed at decreasing stress for autism treatment must include a major emphasis on sleep quality. Now, if I had a magic cure for this I would be a rich man. Nearly every autism parent in the world knows the pain of sleep deprivation. Poor sleep habits is one of the most common issues our ASD kids have. We use a few strategies that seem to help improve sleep for Ethan. These strategies can improve anyone’s sleep quality. Give them a try, and see if they help you or your kid.
Strategies for a Better Night’s Sleep
- No Food an Hour Before Bed
- Bedtime Tea: Blend fresh ginger, lemon essential oil, butter, & MCT oil
- Darken Room
- Lavender Essential Oil on chest or diffused
- Use Melatonin Sparingly
Decreasing Stress for Autism:
Here is where our 4-D Autism Treatment Plan comes full circle. Killing chronic infections and detoxifying the body while providing vital nutrients will reduce the biological stress on our son. Implementing the first 3-D’s of our treatment plan is critical to decreasing stress for autism. Likewise, if one follows the cleanest lifestyle and eats the best diet in the world, it will not do any good under chronic stress. These elements are all connected, and they all influence one another. To maximize their potential, all phases of the plan are being implemented simultaneously.
Well, that’s it! If you’ve read all of my posts on the 4D plan, then you know everything we are doing to treat our son’s autism and manage his symptoms. I hope this series of posts provided you with useful information that perhaps you may use for your own child or even your own life. I encourage you to look further into things I mentioned and make the decisions you think might be best for your family. Remember, I have no medical training. I am not a doctor, and I’m certainly not a sleep expert. I’m Simply a Dad doing the best he can.
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