An Autism diagnosis is not a death sentence. Plenty of people on the Autism spectrum can live fulfilling, happy, successful lives. We’ll cover how to live a healthier life with Autism, but first, it’s likely that you have a few questions. Don’t worry; we’ll answer those too.
What Is Autism?
Autism means that a person has an atypical way of processing sensory and social information. There’s a spectrum of severity, which correlates to how independent a person with Autism can be. You’ll hear about this spectrum often; in fact, it’s so common that the diagnosis is now referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
You may have heard the term “Asperger’s” used to describe someone on the lower end of the spectrum. However, in 2013, the term was discontinued in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders). Now, the terms that are used to describe someone’s placement on the Autism spectrum are “mild,” “moderate” and “severe.”
What Are the Symptoms of Autism?
There are many unique characteristics of Autism that separate this type of special need from general IDD (Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities). However, some symptoms are surprisingly similar to general depression or ADHD, so some individuals with more mild cases of Autism may not receive a correct diagnosis until later in life.
Here are some symptoms of Autism:
- Irregular Sleeping Habits
- Lack of Social Awareness
- Trouble Reading Emotion or Facial Expressions
- Eye Contact Avoidance
- Sensory Experience Obsessions
- Physical Touch Rejection
- Delayed Speech Skills
- Monotone Voice
- Repeating Phrases
- Trouble Concentrating
- Inability to Understand Sarcasm or Certain Idioms
- Object/Subject Fixation
Can People with Autism Live an Independent Life?
Depending on the severity of the diagnosis, those with Autism can absolutely live independent lives. People with mild to moderate cases of Autism can hold long-term, full-time jobs, pay their own bills on time and have fulfilling relationships.
Arguably, more mild cases of Autism see more issues in the workplace. That’s because their Autism isn’t as apparent, which would make an interviewer, for example, put off by the fact that the job candidate wasn’t making eye contact or wouldn’t shake their hand. Those with mild cases of Autism can also feel reluctant to share their diagnoses with new people, hoping that they’ll be treated like everyone else as a result, and that, sometimes, is part of the cause for the miscommunication.
It shouldn’t be the responsibility of the job candidate with Autism to out him or herself, however. Rather, corporations and companies should take the time to understand the symptoms of Autism to ensure that they’re not inadvertently discriminating against an applicant, discounting their skills on the basis of being differently-abled.
While many companies are doing exactly that, more companies need to step up to the cause. If more companies were aware of Autism symptoms, then even more individuals would Autism could live independent lives.
Are Health and Fitness Different for People with Autism?
While individuals with Autism may also be physically differently-abled, those who are not may appear “typical” at a glance. Does that mean that health and fitness are exactly the same for those with Autism? Not necessarily.
Here are a few ways health and fitness may be different for people with Autism:
Diet and Nutrition
Individuals with Autism often have fixations on certain foods. Even if this fixated food is something inherently healthy (like an apple, for example), too much of something good can become a bad thing. Those with Autism have to pay closer attention to their nutrition than others. Individuals with severe Autism will have a caregiver who ensures that their nutritional needs are being met, but those with more mild cases will have to watch what they eat more carefully.
People with Autism gravitate toward routines, finding comfort in the familiar. When a routine – something as small as a different meal for breakfast – is shifted, stress can ensue. This means that people with Autism have higher levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), which can cause issues within the body if left untreated, like ulcers, lower immune systems, nausea, and headaches.
Individuals with mild to moderate cases of Autism generally have more analytical, straight-forward thought patterns, which make them great at certain tasks like building computers, writing code, playing video games, solving puzzles, drawing, etc. The trouble is that all these activities are usually done while sitting. In case you haven’t heard: Sitting is the new smoking. Sitting for prolonged periods of time has been recently linked to chronic diseases, such as Type 2 Diabetes and Heart Disease. While anyone who sits at a desk for work is at risk, individuals with Autism are especially susceptible to these conditions due to their skillset and general interests.
An increase in stress and a sedentary lifestyle can also lead to sleep issues – in anyone – but those with Autism are predisposed to sleep disorders. Insomnia, trouble falling asleep and trouble staying asleep are all issues that individuals with Autism face.
Forming Healthy Habits
Because individuals with Autism are especially drawn to routines, it can be tough to swap out unhealthy habits for healthy ones. For example: If someone with ASD is used to coming home after work and playing video games for the rest of the night, the inclination to change this habit will be very low. A workout buddy, a fitness accountability partner or a personal trainer can help in this area.
How to Live a Healthier Life with Autism
Given the unique health needs of an individual with Autism, there are some specific changes they can make to their fitness regimen to see clearer results.
Diet and Nutrition Tips for People with Autism
Diet carries more meaning for individuals with Autism. Eating isn’t just about the pleasure of taste or having something to do. It’s about texture, comfort, routine. The practice of ritualistic eating isn’t detrimental in and of itself, but if the individual has made it a habit of eating, say, gummy worms multiple times a day, then there might be an issue.
The best way to get ahead here is to substitute the more unhealthy options for healthier ones. While changing out candy for fruits will be helpful, we’re also talking about incorporating more foods that can have an impact on behavior.
Follow up reading:
- 4 Foods That Positively Impact Behavior (and 5 Foods to Avoid)
- Healthy Sensory Foods for Children with Autism
(Note: The second article was written with children in mind, satisfying notoriously picky eaters, but the same sentiments can apply for adults with Autism, who are trying to improve their eating habits while maintaining the sensory experience they crave.)
Healthy Habits for People with Autism
It’s just a matter of incorporating physical activity into the day, slowly and gradually, so the change doesn’t seem too abrupt and uncomfortable.
It can be difficult for people with Autism to cut back on screen time – especially if being on a computer is a necessary component of their job. Instead of cutting back, someone could wear yellow-tinted glasses to refract some of the glare and protect their eyesight.
Request a standing desk or sit on an exercise ball instead of a swivel chair. Incorporate “desk yoga” into the workday. Take your handheld gaming system around the block with you on a walk. Little changes go a long way!
Follow up reading:
(Note: To the same point in the last section, this article talks about children, but still applies to adults with special needs as well.)
Workouts for People with Autism
Working out can be a great way to reduce stress, get better sleep, reduce behaviors, lose weight, build endurance – the list goes on. A consistent workout regimen can lessen the more uncomfortable symptoms of Autism.
To make working a habit, it might be a good idea to start with something that’s fun, something sensorily engaging. Here are some physical activities to try:
- Playing Catch
- Jogging with Noise-Canceling Headphones
It would also be good to try some workouts that improve behavior, reducing aggressive outbursts. Here some workouts to try:
- Medicine Ball Slam
- Punching Bag
- Team Sports
- Scheduled Exercise/Playtime
If the discomfort of the athleisurewear is making exercise a chore, consider trying out some sensory-friendly workout clothing brands. Sometimes a new workout outfit is just the motivation needed to get back in the swing of things.
Personal Fitness for People with Autism
With Special Strong, living a healthier life with Autism is made a little easier. Our personal trainers Special Strong Training Certified, which means that they specialize in working with children and adults with special needs. They understand the unique physiological needs of someone with Autism, and they can personalize your workout with those needs in mind.
If you’re interested in improving your fitness, sign up for private training or a local boot camp class today. Unleash the Special Strong within.
Special Strong provides fitness and nutrition for special needs children, adolescents, and adults with autism and other disabilities. Through our online training platform, we also provide special needs fitness certification courses for personal trainers and service providers who want to work autism and other disabilities.