How to Live a Healthier Life with Autism

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.

Living a healthier life with Autism involves a multifaceted approach to wellness. It’s not just about physical health, but also optimizing mental and emotional wellness. The following are some tips to help anyone with Autism

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First, maintaining a well-balanced diet is crucial. Like everyone else, individuals with Autism need a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains. Nutrition can play a significant role in managing symptoms and promoting overall health. Some individuals on the autism spectrum have food sensitivities or restrictive eating habits, making it necessary to work with a dietician or nutritionist who can help create a balanced diet plan that also accommodates these challenges.

Physical activity is also fundamental to maintaining a healthy life. Regular exercise can help manage symptoms such as hyperactivity, aggression, or self-harming behaviors often encountered with Autism. In addition, exercise improves the overall physical wellbeing and mood. Whether it’s walking, swimming, biking, yoga, or any other form of physical activity, finding something enjoyable is vital to making exercise a long-term habit.

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:

  • Insomnia
  • Irregular Sleeping Habits
  • Routine-Oriented/Ritualistic
  • 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
  • Hyperactivity
  • Object/Subject Fixation
  • Impulsivity

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.

Exploring the Autism Diet

The autism lifestyle encompasses various strategies and interventions designed to support individuals on the autism spectrum, one of which is the autism diet. Proponents of this diet believe that specific dietary changes can alleviate some symptoms associated with autism, thereby enhancing the quality of life for those affected. While no single diet works for everyone, many people have found that dietary adjustments can make a significant difference. It’s important to note that people with autism can live a normal life, and nutrition often plays a crucial role in their overall well-being.

Gluten-Free, Casein-Free Diet

One of the most popular dietary interventions within the autism community is the Gluten-Free, Casein-Free (GFCF) diet. The idea behind the GFCF diet is to eliminate gluten, a protein found in wheat, and casein, a protein found in dairy products, from the individual’s diet. Some parents and caregivers believe that removing these proteins can improve behavior, speech, and other autism-related symptoms. Although scientific evidence on the effectiveness of the GFCF diet is mixed, many families have reported positive changes in their children after adopting it.

Elimination of Artificial Additives

Another key component of the autism diet is the elimination of artificial additives, such as colors, preservatives, and flavorings. The rationale is that these substances could potentially exacerbate symptoms like hyperactivity, irritability, and other behavioral issues. Instead, a diet rich in whole foods—fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains—provides essential nutrients without the potential negative effects of artificial additives.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, as well as in flaxseeds and walnuts, are another important element in the autism diet. Research suggests that these healthy fats may support brain function and reduce inflammation, which can be beneficial for individuals on the autism spectrum. Including omega-3 rich foods in the diet can help improve focus, attention, and behavioral health.

Consult a Healthcare Professional

While dietary changes can be beneficial, it is crucial to consult a healthcare professional before making any significant adjustments. A nutritionist with experience in the autism lifestyle can provide personalized guidance, ensuring that the diet meets the individual’s nutritional needs and does not inadvertently cause harm.

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.

Stress Level

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.

Sedentary Lifestyle

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. Recent studies have linked prolonged periods of sitting to chronic diseases like 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.

Sleep Cycle

Stress levels and a sedentary lifestyle can cause sleep issues in anyone, but individuals with Autism have a higher likelihood of developing sleep disorders. Insomnia, trouble falling asleep and trouble staying asleep are all issues that individuals with Autism face.

Forming Healthy Habits

Because routines are particularly attractive to individuals with Autism, swapping out unhealthy habits for healthy ones can be challenging. For instance, if someone with ASD is accustomed to playing video games for the rest of the night after work, they will be very reluctant to change this habit. 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:

(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.

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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:

  • Swinging
  • Playing Catch
  • Hiking
  • Weightlifting
  • Jogging with Noise-Canceling Headphones
  • Swimming

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. Getting back in the swing of things can be motivated by a new workout outfit.

Personal Fitness for People with Autism

Embarking on a journey of personal fitness for individuals with Autism becomes a more accessible and tailored experience with Special Strong. Our certified personal trainers undergo Special Strong Training Certification, demonstrating their expertise in working specifically with children and adults with special needs, including Autism. Furthermore, these professionals possess an in-depth understanding of the unique physiological requirements associated with Autism spectrum disorders. By leveraging this knowledge, they can customize workout routines to align with the individual needs of each client.

Choosing Special Strong means embracing a fitness program that goes beyond the conventional, acknowledging and addressing the distinctive challenges individuals with Autism may encounter. The personalized approach ensures that exercise regimens are not only effective but also enjoyable and accommodating. Whether opting for private training sessions or engaging in local boot camp classes, Special Strong provides a supportive environment where individuals can thrive physically and mentally.

If you are interested in taking your fitness journey to the next level or helping a loved one with Autism do the same, consider signing up for private training or joining a local boot camp class offered by Special Strong. By doing so, you will have an opportunity to unlock the Special Strong within, fostering a healthier and more empowered lifestyle that is tailored to the unique needs of individuals on the Autism spectrum. Finally, With Special Strong, achieving fitness goals becomes an inclusive and fulfilling experience that recognizes and celebrates the strength within each individual.
Special Strong provides adaptive fitness for children, adolescents, and adults with mental, physical and cognitive challenges. Start your own Special Strong gym franchise today and create a lasting impact on your community.