Students with Autism: Are We Asking Them to Do Their Best While They Feel Their Worst?By Janet Lintala
Janet Lintala is author of The Un-Prescription for Autism: A Natural Approach for a Calmer, Happier, and More Focused Child
The fog is like a cage without a key. Elizabeth Wurtzel
IEPs, aides, modifications, tutoring, special classrooms, and well-trained, dedicated teachers are useful resources to help students on the autism spectrum. But are we putting them into school and therapies when they aren’t feeling their best? New research indicates they may not be as ready to learn as we thought.
A look inside the brain of your autistic student:
Take the example of two students sitting side by side in your classroom. The one on the left is a typically developing student, and the one on the right is on the autism spectrum. They may be similar in appearance since autism doesn’t have a “look”, but the student on the right is struggling through a crushing daily burden of invisible medical issues that you cannot see.
Have you noticed a bleary, tired, foggy look on some of your ASD students’ faces? Think that’s autism you’re seeing? Is your first thought this child may need a stimulant medication to help him or her have better focus and attention, or a prescription to control some of their difficult behaviors?
Let’s see what global research is revealing about the silent struggles this student may face each day in your class:
- Fatigue and grogginess due to the poor sleep patterns of ASD
- Poorly integrated sensory information
- This is a child that needs to move and have a sensory diet to be able to pay attention
- A busy classroom is like having 10 radios on, all tuned to different stations
- He may be seeing double, in which case all the skilled teaching in the world will not help this child read or learn better. When an overwhelmed brain doesn’t integrate the sensory input from both eyes, it can be very hard to read, do math or catch a ball at recess. Such a student will benefit from a developmental optometry exam and prism lenses. Learning will have a better chance of success with a child who can actually see correctly to begin with.
- ASD children with immune dysfunction often don’t feel well:
- More frequent colds and allergies lead to missed days and gaps in learning
- Autoimmune attack on various brain tissues
- Chronic inflammation, including brain inflammation
- Oxidative stress
- Gastrointestinal dysfunction:
- Acid reflux is painful and often expressed as irritability
- Constipation and diarrhea
- Stomach aches
- Insufficient digestive enzymes
- More prone to gastrointestinal infections
- Opioid peptides may form in the gut, enter the circulation and affect cognition, language, mood and behavior
- Anxiety and other mood disorders
- Food sensitivities
- Children with ASD are prone to more food sensitivities, which can affect attention, hyperactivity, handwriting and learning. Here is an eye-opening example:
Figure 1: This is Peter’s brain . . .
Figure 2: This is Peter’s brain on ketchup!
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