Autism, like ADHD, is characterized by massive problems with sleep. A 2009 study published in Sleep Medicine Reviews noted parents report sleep problems for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder at a rate of 50% to 80%, much higher than the rate for non-ASD control subjects and children with non-ASD developmental disabilities.
In a recent study titled ‘Sleep Problems and Autism’, UK-based advocacy group Research Autism noted that the following sleep issues are common among children and adults with ASD.
- Difficulty with sleep onset, or falling asleep
- Difficulty with sleep maintenance, or staying asleep throughout the night
- Early morning waking
- Short-duration sleeping
- Sleep fragmentation, characterized by erratic sleep patterns throughout the night
- Hyperarousal, or heightened anxiety around bedtime
Excessive daytime sleepiness
As with ADHD, one of the causes appears to be disrupted release of melatonin, the hormone affecting drowsiness in the evening. My recommendations to reduce sleep problems in children with ADHD (and thus with autism spectrum disorder as well) appear in my book Helping Your ADD Child. An excellent book on this topic is Sleep And Your Special Needs Child. Both are available on our online bookstore.
Gluten is a tough protein. Stomach enzymes can’t chop it up the way they do other proteins, so long fragments of gluten can enter the small intestine. The immune system of persons with celiac disease then mistakes the gluten for an invading protein and reacts the way it would with a true invader. The result includes intestinal damage, abdominal pain, diarrhea and related symptoms. Researchers are currently looking for an enzyme that will break down the small amounts of gluten that those with celiac disease invariably experience despite their best efforts to reduce gluten intake. Don’t trust current products with attractive names like Gluten Cutter, Gluten Rid, and Gluten Digest, as they have not been shown scientifically to help. Whereas the right enzyme theoretically could help, it has yet to be discovered. The best strategy currently is to make consistent efforts to reduce gluten intake.
Here are some of the Easter Bunny’s secrets for making chemical-free colorings:
Pink – Cook chopped beets in a small amount of water or use the juice from canned beets. Concentrate the color by dehydrating it or microwave into a syrup. Freeze extra syrup in a small container.
Yellow – Add turmeric (from the supermarket spice section) to white frosting. Refrigerate to deepen the color. Consider adding a small amount of lemon extract to disguise the taste.
Green – Cook chopped spinach to the bright green stage. Store in freezer.
Purple – Boil chopped red cabbage in some water. Concentrate it as directed for “pink”. Keep the syrup in a freezer.
Blue – A steely, grey-blue may be made by adding baking soda to cabbage juice.
Brown – Add cocoa to frosting.
A landmark study published in the online journal Lancet Psychiatry last month has provided the largest definitive uncovering of long-suspected brain structural anomalies in persons who have ADHD. I, along with some others at the forefront of ADHD, have long maintained that there are genuine neurological and biological bases for ADHD. This study goes a long way to finalize this issue, which has remained controversial for decades.
Dutch neuroscientists analyzed MRI scans of the brains of more than 3,200 people (ages 4 through 63 with a median of 14) about half of whom were diagnosed as having ADHD. The brain scans revealed that five brain regions were smaller in people with ADHD: the amygdala, an almond-shaped structure involved in processing emotions like fear and pleasure; the hippocampus, which plays a role in learning, memory and emotion; and three brain areas within the striatum (caudate nucleus, putamen and nucleus accumbens) that help process the brain’s reward system. Brain volume differences did not correlate with stimulant use, suggesting that such discrepancies were not a result of medication.
Prevent sensory overload while shopping. Children with autism are especially prone to experience being overwhelmed sights, sounds, touch sensations and smells when out in public. If you are the parent, be alert to the specific triggers that cause this problem. Consider keeping a journal about possible triggers, noting the circumstance and the severity and duration of the overload reaction in your child.
To help you focus on the most likely ones, hunt for your child’s distinct mannerism that indicate overload. Teach your child to use a codeword to indicate discomfort. Steer clear of noisy areas with bright or chaotic lighting while shopping. Time shopping trips to occur during periods of least patronage of the stores you are going to. Bring earplugs or earphones and a comfortable visor or sunglasses for the child. Take your child’s hand when necessary for calming, always avoiding surprise touch.
Fragile X syndrome, named for the unstable condition of the X chromosome, affects boys much more often than girls. Girls suffer less obvious symptoms, often having a normal range of intelligence, and only about 1/3 of the girls with Fragile X syndrome have recognized learning problems. All children with Fragile X syndrome have numerous symptoms that overlap (and are often misdiagnosed and representing exclusively) ADHD symptoms. Poor concentration skills, difficulties with interpersonal relationships, anxiety in social situations and in unfamiliar situations are common symptoms. Occasionally prominent jaw and ears along with a long narrow face can occur. All children with this condition merit professional interventions, primarily targeting the ADHD symptoms.