According to the American Autism Association, doctors diagnose a person with ASD every 11 minutes in the United States.
In 2018 the CDC determined that approximately 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Boys are 4 times more likely to have been diagnosed than girls. About 1 in 6 children in the United States had a developmental disability in 2006-2008, ranging from mild disabilities such as speech and language impairments to severe developmental disabilities, such as intellectual disabilities, cerebral palsy, and autism. (Source: CDC)
The numbers are startling. If your child has been diagnosed with Autism or any of the Autism Spectrum Disorder, you already face unique behavioral challenges. The vast array of symptoms and behaviors associated with ASD are complicated enough to deal with, add to it the range of medical health issues arising in conjunction with it, and you have a minefield to navigate.
Worse still, some of these health issues often mask ASD or vice versa. Therefore, it might be more difficult for researchers to determine why children with ASD are more susceptible to experiencing one or more of them.
The best strategy is to keep a close eye on every area of concern, no matter how trivial it seems. It can help in better diagnosis and customized treatment options. Not all medical and health concerns can be eliminated, but they can be minimized with early intervention and correct therapy.
Autism and ASD exacerbate many health concerns which we ignore usually. Here is a bit of lowdown on some of the most common, but often misunderstood medical and health issues that can be related to Autism and ASD.
For individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), parent/caregiver reports of sleep problems are common with estimates of roughly 50 to 80% ( Couturier et al., 2005 ; Goodlin-Jones et al., 2009 ; Liu, Hubbard, Fabes, & Adam, 2006 ; Schreck & Mulick, 2000 ).
The disturbed sleep in autistic or ASD individuals could be either due to underlying medical issues like Sleep Apnea, allergies, and infection or due to environmental variables. Amongst the medical issues, sleep apnea is one of the most common causes of restless sleep.
Sleep apnea can affect people at any age and more so for ASD patients. Children with sensory processing difficulties face more issues with falling asleep and also wake up more frequently during the night. Check out our resources on how Optimal Breathing™ can help you reduce or eliminate insomnia, as well as alleviate sleep apnea symptoms.
Parents should also asses environmental factors and find out what works best for their child based on his/her reactions to the changes introduced.
To help children sleep well during the night, it is vital that a bedtime routine is established and followed in reasonable limits. Predictability and a comforting, familiar pattern can help set up a structure and understanding. A program that helps teach a child to calm down, relaxes and then readies them to sleep is Optimal Breathing™ Academy’s Breathing course for children. The basic exercises and techniques revealed in this program can be relaxing for your child even during the day, and then you can use it as parts of their bedtime routine.
Sleep training for children with Autism
Most parents with ASD afflicted or autistic children find it difficult to set up positive sleep patterns so that the child could sleep through the night. Sleep training methods can help a parent in determining and conveying to the child that it is bedtime and they are expected to remain in their beds.
Yemiserach Kifle, MD, associate medical director- Seattle Children’s Pediatric Sleep Disorders Center and clinical associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Washington, School of Medicine- states:
"The most common issues we see are highly irregular sleep-wake cycles, unusual, problematic sleep routines (often accompanied by repetitive behavior), difficulty settling and delayed sleep onset, frequent and prolonged night-waking, short sleep duration and early morning wake times... It is not known with certainty what causes these issues but abnormalities in circadian rhythm (our body's "sleep clock"), disturbance in melatonin production, and perhaps abnormalities in other hormones or neurotransmitters may be involved. There may be other factors involved such as increased sensitivity to light, sound, touch, temperature, and lack of bedtime routine...A child's behavior during the day is a better indicator of whether he or she is getting enough sleep at night.”
Children with ASD often show more significant depression and anxiety symptoms than other children. This makes it difficult for them to switch off their brain and fall asleep. Sleep disorders affect the entire family and can cause additional behavioral issues for the child.
Establishing better sleeping habits with Optimal Breathing™ exercises designed specifically for children will certainly help harried parents in managing sleep disorders in their kids with ASD.
Seizures and Epilepsy
One study shows the majority of seizure activity occurs in children with ASD after 10 years of age with the average age being 13.3. While there are still not enough studies to conclusively determine why seizures are so common, scientists have found some evidence to support various scenarios. The largest group at risk for seizure disorders appears to be those individuals diagnosed with an intellectual disability in addition to ASD. Additionally, seizures seem to be more common in children who have used antipsychotic medications as part of their ASD treatment.
Patients with Autism or ASD are prone to “over breathing” or hyperventilation, which causes alkalosis, a known trigger of seizures.
An email from a person with seizures that was helped greatly by our simple techniques and exercises suggested in Optimal Breathing™ Self Mastery Kit
"First off, over-breathing induces alkalosis, which is a known trigger of seizures.
That's the reason several minutes of hyperventilation is a part of the standard EEG monitoring test for seizures. For almost two decades, Robert Fried ("Breathe Well, Be Well") has successfully taught deep breathing with biofeedback monitoring so clients could learn to modify their blood levels of CO2 and their EEGs, Results--reduced seizure frequency. I learned to control my breathing from a therapist who was teaching me self-hypnosis to try and control the symptoms of my drug-resistant seizures.
The prominent symptoms were digestive distress, abject terror, and cardiac arrhythmia. Brain surgery (1988) did not stop them — the breathing I'd stumbled on accidentally to control my severe panic episodes when disoriented from seizures.
It was part of the therapeutic training to help me normalize my heart rate and recover from seizures more quickly and with less damage. This and numerous other strategies (including using the amino acid, taurine) have left me seizure free since July of 1998."
Food selectivity or picky eating is present in upto 70% of children with ASD. It is often overlooked as clinicians focus on treating other, more urgent core symptoms.
Dysphagia (swallowing disorder) is another issue that has often been ignored in individuals with autism. Habitual dysphagia is a disorder without any specified physical or medical pathology. Individuals with autism have a high incidence of a chronic swallowing dysfunction that may be causal for lifelong digestive disorders (Toman, 2010). The most severe consequence of dysphagia is aspiration pneumonia, caused by food particles pulled into the trachea. If the individual with autism is showing symptoms like tongue thrust, mouth breathing, chewing or eating with open mouth, too slow or too fast eating, rumination, etc.
Habitual dysphagia may not cause too many problems in the pediatric population, but gastric disorders intensify for teens and young adults with autism. By the time habitual dysphagia shows signs and symptoms, it may be too late to quickly change. Dysphagia disorders respond best to early intervention. Changing swallowing habits through early intervention for evaluation and treatment of children with ASD is the best route.
Chronic diarrhea and constipation are two of the most common ailment prevalent in children with ASD. It is estimated that about 48% showed symptoms of GI disturbances, while 57% showed incontinence according to a study. A child suffering from these problems shows more significant behavioral issues stemming from these GI issues and suffers from interrupted sleep.
Dietary allergies, feeding disorders are known to play a role in GI disorders in some cases. In most cases, children suffering from GI problems may not exhibit typical symptoms, and therefore, in some cases, parents may not even know there is a problem. Researchers from Columbia University believe that early treatment of GI symptoms can result in the reduction of behavioural problems.
Instead of pharmaceutical treatments, multiple medications and over-the-counter remedies like vitamin supplements, alternative approaches Optimal Digestion’s Supreme Plant Enzymes and pre and Probiotics promise to be far more effective with minimal side effects and long-lasting results.
Anxiety, hypertension, and headaches
A 2014 study found that children with sensory hyperactivity were more likely to experience migraines. Additionally, those children with higher levels of anxiety are more likely to have migraines or cluster headaches than others. They may also suffer from headaches if they are headbangers. Nutritional changes, behavioral therapies and re-establishing fundamental breathing patterns like Optimal Breathing™ Academy’s Calming, Relaxation and De-stressing pack, can help in managing headaches and migraine, and reducing anxiety and stress at the same time.
Can lack of Oxygen affect Autism?
According to an article published in Medical News Today, new research presented at CHEST 2011, the 77th annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP), suggests that a physical abnormality in the airway may be a prominent indicator for autism and autistic spectrum disorders, making it a possible diagnostic marker for this disease.
"With all of the bronchoscopies I've performed, I have not seen this type of abnormality in children who aren't autistic...It appears to be a definitive marker for autism or autistic spectrum disorder."
Study author Barbara Stewart, MD, Nemours Children's Clinic, Pensacola, Florida.
"Breathing is the FIRST place, not the LAST place one should investigate when any disordered energy presents itself."
Sheldon Saul Hendler, MD, Ph.D.
How breathing can help in managing Autism symptoms
If your child breathes through the mouth more than the nose, it may seem like a harmless habit, but it can have a considerable impact on health and attention spans of children.
By just getting the child to have enough sleep can dramatically improve a child's behavior and focus. If your child breathes through the mouth while sleeping, it allows the tongue to drop down from the usual resting place, i.e. roof of the mouth and slide back into the throat, blocking the airway. This can invite cause snoring and sleep apnea, resulting in irregular sleep patterns, adverse behavioral, ADHD and cognitive development symptoms.
Abnormal breathing in ASD also involves fast, shallow breathing or breath holding. Breathing is central to O2 and CO2 exchange and is vital for managing optimal blood circulation and bringing in anti-inflammatory oxygen to the immune system, the gut, and the brain.
Properly developed Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) Dominant Diaphragmatic Breathing reduces anxiety, promotes sleep, and is essential for speech and posture. Children with ASD may have problems in the limbic system, an area of the brain that is responsible for learning, memory, and emotions. An affected limbic system also causes shallow upper chest breathing and breath-holding of the type seen in ASD.
Chronic, emotional breathing causes oxygen levels to deplete in the body including the gut and immune system, thereby significantly reducing their functioning. Lowered oxygen can lead to problems like inflamed gut, digestive issues, and constipation. Difficulties with sleep, speech, behavior, learning, and anxiety follow soon, resulting in "meltdowns” in children.
Shallow breathing reduces the delivery of oxygen to white blood cells which are needed to fight pathogens, allergens and removing metabolic waste from the body.
Optimal Breathing™ and Brain Development
When a child resorts to emotional upper chest breathing, the oxygen demands made on the diaphragm is lowered in favor of the brain for a few seconds. Cerebral oxygen levels need to be maintained through properly developed PNS dominant breathing so that the brain has sufficient oxygen for learning and memories.
Diaphragmatic breathing also promotes better sleep, which is vital for brain growth and memory consolidation.
As the limbic system is affected in ASD, the breathing pattern changes significantly, and children with ASD become emotional roller coaster breathers.
It has now been proved that children with ASD have abnormal blood flow in this region of the brain. A vicious circle follows, where the limbic system induces sub-optimal breathing, resulting in inadequate oxygen levels to the brain, which in turn causes abnormal blood flow to the brain, resulting in an overactive fight, flight, freeze, fake it, stumble or mumble oriented limbic system. And the cycle just goes on. Upper thoracic breathing makes a child anxious and susceptible to emotional meltdowns, in conjunction with hyper acid weakened gut/immunity issues.
Optimal Breathing™ techniques help in relaxed, grounded breathing, which helps in decreasing metabolic demands and increases oxygen supply to all parts of the body, including the brain. The increased oxygen levels help in reducing stress and anxiety and allow children with ASD to learn better and for developmental mechanisms to improve.
Optimal Breathing™ is vital in maintaining physiological equilibrium, aka homeostasis. ASD and autism are better managed with early intervention as with age; children gain additional height and weight that further increases the metabolic load on developing systems. A weak diaphragm is unable to cope with the stress, and maybe a reason that ASD medical and health concerns appear to worsen with age. The diaphragm is also the body’s main muscle organ that helps to create flexibility, overall physical stability, and core strength necessary for the development of fine motor skills.
Optimal Breathing™ helps maintain healthy gastrointestinal tract. Oxygen plays a vital role in digestive processes, aiding absorption of digested food matter, evacuation of fecal matter through oxygen activated enzyme systems and the pumping action of the diaphragm. Oxygen also increases the bowels ability to restrict harmful waste products crossing the intestines gap junctions easily, and thus protects the body and promotes gut health. The oxygen also aids in enhancing gut flora and entire microbiome.
Anyone that works with autism knows full well that establishing calming and relaxation are extremely important and most often difficult to sustain. We have created a few tools that aid in this like nothing else. Our 12 foot Chest Expansion Strap and Optimal Breathing Pattern Stabilizer work to expand, ease, balance and strengthen PNS breathing as well as hold it in place during activity and sleep. Some of our exercises can be integrated into games and as the breathing patterns improve so then does the grounded mindbody integration.
When it comes to Autism, early intervention can change a life.
Research has made clear that high-quality early intervention and prevention can improve learning, communication, and social skills, as well as underlying brain development. Don’t wait till it is too late. Act now!