I’ve compiled a list of relatively simple things you can do that will not only improve the life of your special needs child but that of your whole family as well. This list is comprised of 12 ways families with special needs in our household that have had such an impact in our everyday lives. They basically boil down to getting healthier, being more organized and getting the support you need do this thing we call “raising a special needs child”.
1) Determine once and for all if anyone has any food allergies or sensitivities that are affecting behaviour.
You can typically rule out common food allergies through the “elimination diet” protocol. This involves eliminating certain foods for a period of time, usually three or four weeks, then slowly reintroducing individual foods and monitoring your child for reactions or return of behavioral challenges or physical symptoms. Once you discover which foods your child is sensitive to, eliminate them from their diet for an extended period of time (6 months or more).
But if you haven’t really noticed a change after several weeks, consider that you may be dealing with hidden allergies. For example, after allergy testing, we discovered that my son had garlic sensitivity. Being Italian – we put garlic in everything! And I was happy to do so knowing that garlic is known to strengthen the immune system. But what I’ve come to realize is that one person’s food can be another person’s poison and in his situation, we were inadvertently making him worse by continuing to use garlic in everything.
So, consider having your child tested for food sensitivities. This is different than common allergy testing which may not pick up on milder sensitivities. Allergic reactions that are immediate and produce rashes or anaphylactic shock are typically picked up by IgE testing done in an allergist’s office. However some allergic reactions are delayed by hours or days and therefore the culprits are much harder to detect. These types of reactions (i.e. headaches or stomach problems, to name a few) are best determined by an IgG test. Testing for food sensitivity via IgG testing is usually done by holistic physicians who practice alternative or integrative medicine.
2) Finally commit to going gluten-free.
It seems daunting – maybe you tried it once for a short while and didn’t note any improvement, or maybe it was just too hard to do it over the holidays? Set a goal to ease into it and commit to doing it for 1 month. Then as you get the hang of it and have managed for that month, continue for a second month, on so on.
3) Go casein-free (or completely dairy-free).
Maybe you’ve tried being gluten-free with minimal or no results. Or you want to take biomedical interventions to the next level. Consider going casein-free (or completely dairy-free).
Remember that “…a large percentage of the world’s population does not consume animal milk once childhood has passed. In fact, humans are the only species that drink milk as adults, and the only “animal” to drink the milk of another animal. Cow milk may be the perfect food for baby cows, but it was not meant to sustain humans.” – Excerpt from E.A.T.
4) Stop buying any food with artificial colours or flavorings.
Highly processed foods can lose natural color (as well as flavor and vitamins) with exposure to high temperatures, light, air and moisture. To make food more appealing, chemicals are added to those foods to make them look and taste better. These include coloring agents and artificial flavors.
It’s important to note that artificial food colors are mostly derived from petroleum or coal tar – not exactly food items. More studies are pointing to the ill effects of artificial colors and flavorings on behaviors. Finally science is catching up to what parents have known all along. Ingesting fake stuff leads to a decline in behavior and general wellness.
5) Drink more water.
It seems obvious that we should drink plenty of water but sadly, this is commonly overlooked. Apple juice is not water. Neither is lemonade. We all need to drink just plain ol’ water each day.
Water is the body’s principal chemical component and makes up about 60 percent of body weight. Every system in the body depends on water. For example, water flushes toxins out of vital organs and carries nutrients to cells. Lack of water can lead to dehydration, a condition that occurs when you don’t have enough water in your body to carry out normal functions. Even mild dehydration can drain energy and make normal everyday tasks seem exhausting.
6) Start juicing.
Juicing supercharges nutrient intake. You can’t possibly eat that volume of fruits and veggies that are required to make a 16 ounce glass of raw juice. Juicing is especially useful when you have kids who are picky eaters. There are many recipes for juice blends that tastes great, are nutritious and don’t look green (or whatever color your child would avoid). Juicing is all the rage right now so finding recipes online is easy.
7) Make nutritious smoothies.
Not sure your kid will take to juicing? Trust me, they will once you find the blends you like. But in the meantime, what kid doesn’t like a smoothie? If you’re child doesn’t have issues with the texure of smoothies, make a nutrient packed smoothie for them to snack on. If texture is a problem, revisit juicing which removes all pulp and has no texture.
8) Make your meals more nutritionally impactful.
Rethink what you are feeding your family. Make a variety of real foods each week (something not from a box). Learn to add more nutrient dense ingredients to your family favorites. I’ve been having a great time adding all kinds of new veggies to the various chili recipes I have. I have also learned how to make soups and stews heartier.
9) Incorporate exercise into the daily routine.
If your child is sensory seeking, provide sensory stimulation in a way that incorporates exercise. Not only will this release pent up energy but it will help strengthen muscles and improve motor skills. Try a variety of activities to see which one your child enjoys. My son absolutely loves swimming in a pool. While we don’t have a pool in our home, I make it a point to enroll him in swimming lessons (for structured learning and exercise) as well as seek out opportunities for unstructured water play.
As for sports, team sports stress him out, as does any sport where balls are flying at him. So we discovered golf. He loves that he can hit the ball away from him and that he can play against himself. Plus, an inexpensive trip to the local driving range is a great way to spend time outdoors, get some exercise and practice focusing on the task at hand – all at the same time.
Discover what activities your child may enjoy and make physical activity a part of your daily routine. The same goes for you. Go outside and walk for 20-30 minutes. The getting your heart pumping and the fresh air will be a great stress reliever!
10) Try a new therapy or treatment.
Yes, this means trying that new therapy you’ve been hearing about – whatever it may be. Just go for it! I’ll even recommend one to you that we used early on in our diagnosis with great results.
Therapeutic Listening is research based tool for treating people of all ages who have difficulty processing sensory information, listening, attention, and communication. Results include increased focus and attention, better moods, balanced energy levels, greater tolerance to noise, improved sleep and less anxiety. Ask your occupational therapist about it.
11) Clean out your cupboards and re-stock them with better food.
If you only keep healthy foods in your house, then you are bound to only eat healthy foods! Couple this process with a good deed. Go through your cupboard, pantry and fridge and donate anything with high fructose corn syrup, artificial colors, artificial flavors, gluten, preservatives (or whatever else you are eliminating this year) to a food pantry.
While this may seem like you are “poisoning” the community, remember, that one person’s poison is another’s food. Food pantries will accept any food item. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, then dump your “bad food”, stock up on “better” real food (and for your good deed – buy a bag of “good food” for the food pantry too!)
12) Utilize a weekly meal planner.
Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. Remember, we are trying to improve your quality of life. Keep meal planning simple by utilizing a weekly schedule to help you stay one step ahead of the game. There are plenty of free printable meal planners available online.