Posts for: February, 2018
People with autism have such a wide variety of symptoms and experiences, it can be challenging to address the condition in general terms. For example, there are many physical signs and consequences experienced by autistic people that may never surface in a large portion of the autistic population, but that doesn't mean they're not related to the disorder.
Some of the most common physical effects of autism include sensory sensitivity (or lack thereof), gastrointestinal problems and coordination.
A person's sensory sensitivities can greatly influence the way he or she interacts with the world. For example, a high tolerance or indifference to pain, as is often found among autistic individuals, can have serious physical consequences.
Think for a moment what you might do if you burn your hand or otherwise injure yourself: You'd probably give it some sort of medical attention, either at home or at a doctor's office, because the discomfort you've suffered as a result has interrupted your regular activities or daily routine. Because injuries often have complications, it's important to have a doctor look into what's causing you pain. If an autistic person is unbothered by pain, he or she may not seek medical attention, allowing the issue to potentially inflict more damage on his or her body.
Sensitivity to light and sound can also make it difficult for autistic people to go into uncontrolled environments, limiting their capacity for physical activity. Research suggests that exercise is beneficial to people with autism, but helping an autistic person get active isn't as simple as stepping through the front door to go on a job. Careful consideration needs to be taken to accommodate sensitivities, coordination and comfort with new things.
Digestive issues often occur in people on the autism spectrum. Other than the discomfort related to gastrointestinal (GI) issues, there are health consequences. For example, chronic diarrhea could mean a person isn't getting all the necessary nutrients they may have ingested, opening up the possibility of vitamin deficiencies and other symptoms of malnutrition.
An autistic person's physical health is paramount, and their disorder should not be an excuse to ignore or minimize the significance common symptoms like GI problems, diminished coordination or sensory sensitivities. Discuss treatment options with a pediatrician or primary care provider familiar with the disorder and its implications, but trust your instincts, too. As the family member of someone with autism, you're more in-tune to that person's needs than anyone else.
While you may wonder at your teen’s ability to stay up late into the night, it’s more a matter of biology than rebellion! According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens tend to go to bed later, getting sleepy only around 11 PM. But what happens when early wake-up times for school or sports practice cuts short the amount of sleep they get each night?
Only a very small percentage of today’s teenagers get the amount of sleep per night that they should perhaps as low as 15% and the effects not getting enough sleep can be dire. While early school start times are often to blame for a lack of sleep in teens, new studies are beginning to prompt school districts to move their start times up, one more example of how we are beginning to understand just how serious sleep deprivation can be.
Danger on the Roads
We all know that sleep deprivation can be dangerous on the road, but recent study has shown how even small changes sleep affect road safety. Because so many teens are sleep deprived, they are a danger on the roads for themselves and everyone else!
The study in question showed that crash rates in two neighboring cities in Virginia were 20-25% higher for 16-18-year olds in the city where school started at 7:20-25 AM, compared to its neighbor where school started at 8:20-8:25 AM. This marked difference, with only an hour’s discrepancy in school start time from one town to the next, shows just how risky sleep deprivation can be for young drivers.
And injuries on the road aren’t the only trouble. Less sleep for adolescents also damages their ability to learn. In a 2002 study, roughly an extra hour and a half of sleep led to “significant benefits such as improved attendance and enrollment rates, less sleeping in class, and less student-reported depression.” And according to the APA, even as small a difference as 25 minutes more sleep appears to make the difference between an A or B student and a C, D, or F student. Simply put, the less sleep a teen gets, the less prepared their brain is to absorb new information and to process that information later.
What Can I Do?
Obviously, sharing this information with your child is a great place to start. Also, consider the start time of your child’s school or pre-school activities, and whether a later start time might be a better fit for your child. If they do attend a school with a very early start time, encourage them to go to bed earlier than they might otherwise. The evidence backs it up - bedtime shouldn’t necessarily end with young adulthood! In the long run, your teen should feel the marked difference when they get a good night’s sleep. Prevent dangerous consequences by tackling the problem of sleep deprivation before it gets out of hand.
Do you have a story about your sleepy teen? Comment below and tell us about it!