Diet and Nutrition and the Special Needs Child

healthy plate The quality of our diet affects our health throughout our lives. As adults, we all know how good we feel when we are eating a healthy diet. It should come as no surprise then that diet and nutrition have a tremendous impact on children, especially our special needs children.

Studies have shown that nutritional deficiencies can profoundly effect a child’s ability to learn, communicate, think, socialize and adapt to new situations. Since these are areas that many special needs children already struggle with, it is vitally important that we make sure their bodies are equipped to do the work they need to do by providing them with a nutritious diet.

Special needs children can have a variety of issues with food: whether they display a lack of interest in eating, food aversions and sensitivities, difficulty swallowing, fixation on eating only one food, negative reactions to food textures and color, the list is endless.

Talk with your doctor, nutritionist or therapist about the best course of action for your child. A nutritional assessment will give you a good course of action specific to your child’s needs. Talk to other parents of special needs children and find out what is working for them. Research diet and nutrition online. Here is a Mayo Clinic article on basic guidelines for a healthy diet for kids: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/childrens-health/in-depth/nutrition-for-kids/art-20049335

Don’t be discouraged if changing your child’s eating habits takes a long time. Don’t give up. Just keep offering small amounts of the new foods you want your child try. Celebrate each small victory along the way. Be patient. Give yourself some grace.

A friend of mine whose son is autistic tells me that eating a healthy, organic diet has helped him tremendously. Some children with autism have problems with milk and gluten. There is a lot of information online about diets for children with autism. Finding the right diet for your child can help. You can find more about the Autism Diet here: http://www.autism-diet.com/

Studies suggest that a high-fat, low-carb, ketogenic diet can help prevent seizures in children who do not respond to medication. You can find more information here: https://www.epilepsy.com/learn/treating-seizures-and-epilepsy/dietary-therapies/ketogenic-diet

cuttingveggiesEating habits are formed early in life. Children watch what their parents are eating and learn to eat the same things. Do you model healthy eating habits? Do you keep healthy snacks easily available to your children? Set the example for your children and you will reap the benefits of good health right along with them. If possible, have your children help you shop and let them pick out the vegetables and fruit. Let them help you prepare some of the food you eat. Involve them in the decisions and preparation and it will go a long way towards helping them develop an interest in healthy food.

Some special needs children struggle with obesity due to limited mobility or conditions like low muscle tone which make it harder to keep weight off. Every child should be encouraged to find a sport they enjoy. The joy of movement and being a part of a team encourages friendships and cures the social isolation that so many special needs kids face. There are many adaptive sports teams today: Miracle League, TOPSoccer, and Special Olympics to name just a few. Check something out in your area and help your child get moving.

Don’t let your finances stop you from getting out and having fun. There are lots of free activities available. Take a walk. Go to the park. Call the zoo or museum and find out when they have a free day. Attend free community concerts or plays.

Always check with your doctor before making any drastic changes to your child’s diet, but remember that you know your child best. Every child, every family is different.

What kind of diet works best for your child? I would love to hear what works and what doesn’t work that you have tried.

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