Adults and children alike rely on their senses to obtain information about our environment.  The five senses that people commonly think of are touch, taste, sight, and smell – these senses give us information about the world around us.  However, three other senses provide us with information about our own bodies: Proprioception, vestibular input, and interoception.  Interoception is the process of interpreting information that comes from our internal organs.  These signals tell us that we feel hungry or thirsty, need to use the bathroom, or even if we feel unwell.  This sense helps us realize that our heart is beating too fast, that we have butterflies in our stomachs or feel dysregulated.  While crucial to our well-being and ability to function, interoception is often overlooked.

 

Examples of children who could benefit from intervention include:

 

-A child who has a meltdown before lunch but cannot identify that he feels dysregulated because he is hungry

-A child with an anxiety disorder who withdraws when transitioning to gym class

-An older child who has frequent accidents or realizes they have to urinate when it is nearly too late

-A child who gets over-excited and therefore dysregulated when there is a notable change in the schedule

 

Intervention helps children process the sensory information coming into their brains and communicate what they need.  When a child identifies that they need rest, water, or a bathroom break, they can fulfill that need.  Only when that need is met can they reach the higher level executive functioning skills needed for learning.  Try these strategies to help children process and interpret information about their bodies:

 

Practice observing other senses. Interoception is more abstract than the sense of sight or smell, especially to children.  Before diving into interoception, practice with the sensation of touch.  Explore hot and cold, soft and rough, or clean and dirty.  Start to think about if the sense brings up an emotion such as discomfort or calm.

 

Experiment.  Give children an opportunity to observe their bodies at rest.  Then challenge them to a brief but intense exercise period (jumping jacks or sprints work well for this).  Allow your students to observe and compare how they felt before and after the exercise.

 

Be detectives.  Use a poster of the body and let older students brainstorm different sensations from different body parts.  Focus on one organ at a time and ask them guiding questions or provide examples as necessary.  This is an excellent tool for visual learners.

 

Give examples.  Having the right words to describe the concept can be a barrier for many individuals with interoception challenges.  Share how different cues make you feel.  Maybe when your stomach is empty, it feels hollow and rumbling.  Challenge yourself to open up about your signals to help give your students the tools and language they need.

 

Zones of Regulation. Already using the Zones of Regulation curriculum?  Help children align how they react from their internal signals with the zones.  For example, a child might be in the yellow zone when their heart beats too fast or the blue zone when they feel overtired.

 

Mindfulness.  Use a guided meditation to tune into different body functions (like breathing).  You can also practice using a moment of silence to check in with your body.  This can be as simple as asking preschoolers to check in with their bodies to see if they need to use the bathroom or as thorough as a complete guided body scan.

healthy lifestyle autism, child reaching for strawberry

 

Even as adults, many of us struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Whether we find it difficult to remain motivated with exercise, or to stick to a nutritious diet, its important that we find a healthy balance! However, for children with autism (and their families), it can be even more difficult to follow a healthy lifestyle, and many will require extra support to ensure they can do so.

At Alee behavioral, we have many years of experience in working with children with autism and their families to ensure they can reach their full potential. Our holistic approach encompasses many different kinds of autism therapy, from speech therapy to applied behavioral analysis (ABA). However, we also understand the importance of maintaining a healthy, balanced lifestyle in addition to any extra support they may receive.

In order to help, we’ve compiled some ‘Top Tips’, on how to best maintain a healthy lifestyle for children with autism!

1) Keep moving!

Children with autism will have varied interests and hobbies. They tend to think very analytically and as such, will tend to favor hobbies that challenge them mentally. Some common hobbies include coding, trainspotting and writing.

While it is important to encourage them to explore their interests, its important to note that these hobbies often equate to sitting down indoors and staying still. As a result, they also spend some time outdoors and exercising! This does not mean they need to be constantly on the go, but you should set aside some time each day for exercise. We recommend fun, simple activities such as walking, yoga or gymnastics!

For more tips and exercise recommendations for children with autism, you can check out our previous blog here!

2) Find a Sleep Routine!

Children with autism are more likely to suffer from insomnia, and often find it difficult to fall asleep. And, as with anyone, a bad night’s sleep can seriously affect their behavior and how they feel throughout the day.

One way in which you can combat this is by establishing a routine. You should encourage them to get settled and ready for bed at the same time every day. Ideally, you should also limit screen time before bedtime, so they can fall asleep easier!

3) An Apple a day

As we mentioned previously, we all struggle with maintaining a healthy diet, especially when we are surrounded by temptation! However, this can be especially difficult for those with autism as they tend to favor specific foods, tastes and textures over others, and they will be less willing to try something new. In this case, the most important lesson we can teach them is moderation!

They don’t have to stop eating their favorite food, but they should try other things too! When making changes to a diet, do so slowly. Make small substitutions over a long period of time, allowing them to get used to the changes as opposed to a complete overhaul overnight, which they might find overwhelming.

4) Stay relaxed!

Children with autism can often feel stressed or anxious, While there are many ways to combat this, such as autism therapy, its important that you help them deal with and process their feelings in the home too. Yoga, meditation and mindfulness are great at helping children de-stress and come to terms with how they are feeling. Learn more about mindfulness for children in the video included below:

5) Be patient and understanding

Like any child who is growing and developing, your child’s needs, wants and behaviors will change from day to day. It can be difficult, during this time, to ensure you are providing them with the help and support they need. With this in mind, the best way to help them is by being patient and understanding. If they are feeling tired, ask them why they think they might be feeling that way and what you can do about it. At meal times, help them feel in control by giving them a choice on what they eat that day.

A healthy lifestyle can be difficult to maintain, but it is not impossible! Try to take small steps towards a healthier lifestyle each day and you will all feel the benefits!

Any questions? Give us a call!

401-228-8303

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