Journey Through Autism – Step 2

And we’re back! Welcome to Step 2 in Ashton’s Journey through Autism (for Step 1 click here) I hope you all are ready to take notes and get to work! And always remember that I am not a doctor. I’m just a mom sharing what I did with my child to achieve progress and results.

Before we dive into diets and supplements, you’ll want to sit down and observe your child to better understand their routines, triggers, and behaviors. I did this for a week with Ashton. From the moment he woke up to the time he went to bed, I observed him, recorded everything, and then did it again the next day. From that information, I was able to start mapping out a clear plan of action. So, your task this week is to record, observe and repeat for an entire week.

I can’t stress enough how important this step is. Not only does this help you better understand your child and create a plan, but it will also help your child’s therapists and doctors form a very tailored and specific therapy plan. Over the coming weeks, I will break down how I tackled every topic on this list to help Ashton make better progress. Ok. Let’s do this. Here’s what you’ll need to record:

Sleeping schedule- This is the most straightforward task to record, but it’s essential. “Half of children who have autism have trouble falling or staying asleep, which may make their symptoms worse.” That makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? A typical child who doesn’t get a good night’s rest usually is cranky and grumpy in the morning. So if an autistic child is having a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep regularly, this could be a considerable hindrance in their development and progress.

So pull out that old baby monitor and plop it right next to your toddler’s bed. Watch it after you put them in the bed and record how long it took them to fall asleep. Record the exact time they wake up and how long it takes for them to get up and find you. The same goes for naptime. After I did this with Ashton, I was surprised to find out that two nights out of that week, he woke up at around 2 am, played in his room, and then went back to sleep only to wake up at 6:30 am. The following day he was all over the place, threw multiple temper tantrums, and wouldn’t focus at all. I had no clue this was going on until I monitored his sleep.

Food- It’s a known fact that what you put into your body can heavily affect your day-to-day behaviors and the way your body functions. However, how an autistic child’s diet can contribute to their daily behaviors and body functions has become a controversial topic. I have spoken to doctors who say what a child eats does not affect their behavior. And I’ve talked to dozens of mothers and holistic doctors who suggest that gluten, dairy, and sugar (amongst other things) negatively affect a child’s behavior and focus. So, I took matters into my own hands and tested it on Ashton.

I recorded everything he ate for the week, and on two of those days, I removed gluten entirely. Once the week was complete, I reviewed my notes and noticed that he was a little calmer on the gluten-free days, and we had better success when it came to his focus. It was not a huge change, but it was noticeable enough for me to delve a little deeper.

I didn’t want to jump the gun; after all, it could’ve very well been just a coincidence. So I did an additional two weeks of gluten-free food for Ashton. And you know what? Not only was his focus improving, but his behavior was calming as well. Even his teachers at daycare were shocked at how a change in his diet could help so much. Now, this didn’t fix all of our problems, and we still had a long way to go, but it was a welcomed small victory to celebrate.

Before you decide to take your baby gluten-free, first start monitoring their diet and how it affects them. Next, speak to their doctor and get their advice. Just because this worked for us doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. As I said earlier, this is a very controversial topic, so make sure you do your research before diving off the deep end.

Stimming- You might notice that your child flaps their hands, rocks back and forth, spins, repeats words and phrases, and/or other repetitive behaviors regularly. This type behavior is often called stimming. The term  is short for self-stimulatory behavior. Although it can be a little nerve-racking to witness, it’s your child’s way of demonstrating emotion, or it can even be a coping mechanism for them. Some children stim all day long, while others only under certain circumstances.

Side note: I can’t stress this enough- do not stop your child while they are stimming unless it is causing them physical harm. Imagine if someone told you a hilarious joke, so you naturally started to laugh. But then someone else came to you and told you to stop laughing. You weren’t doing anything wrong. You were just reacting to a funny situation and your body was expressing how you feel. That’s how it feels to an autistic person when you try to stop them from stimming. We’ll talk more in-depth about this in another post.

So you’ll want to record all the instances that your child stims, how long it lasts, and what happened right before they stimmed. That way, you can get a better idea of what (if anything) triggers their stimming in the first place. For instance, Ashton flaps his hands but only when he’s excited. It’s almost as if when he gets happy, he feels it from the tips of his fingers to the bottoms of his toes. And flapping his hands and standing on his tiptoes is how his body expresses that emotion. He can very clearly express all other feelings, but joy and excitement are shown with his whole body.

Unusual Interests or Behaviors- Does your child line toys up? Is fascinated by fans or clocks? Loves spinning wheels on cars? Obsessed with a particular toy or item? Doesn’t pretend play? Gets upset by minor changes? Grind their teeth? Sensory issues? Covers their ears often? Bang their head to go to sleep? Write. It. Down. These are all questions their doctor and therapists are going to ask you. So get a head start on the answers.

The last thing you’ll want to record is what excites your child the most. Particularly something that they choose to focus on for more than 5 minutes. This is crucial for when we cover how to teach your child. For example, Ashton is obsessed with all things animals.  Majority of his day is spent identifying animals, watching animal movies or playing with his animal toys. So, I took what he loves and incorporated it into how I teach him. Now I can get him to sit and pay attention for a little longer than usual and he’s actually excited to learn.

Alright, Mommas. So now you have your assignment for this week. It’s going to feel redundant and obsessive some days, but I promise it will not only help you to better understand your child and pick-up on patterns/routines you didn’t notice before, but it will also help you breakdown the specific areas where they need help. So pick a week and stick to it. PS. This really helped me to understand Ashton’s potty schedule too! #MomWin

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