According to a study last year by the CDC, almost a third of all children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are severely overweight compared to just 13% of typically developing children. Helping a child on the spectrum with their weight issues can be complex, considering the eating behaviors and developmental challenges involved. So what is a parent to do?
Reasons For Weight Gain
Research has discovered that there are several possible contributing factors to excessive weight gain among kids with ASD. Some behavioral medications can cause weight gain in children. Also, kids with ASD have a tendency for less physical activity and poor nutrition.
Seek A Weight Management Team
Because weight issues with children on the spectrum can be complicated, it is important to tackle this issue with the help of a professional. It is recommended that parents seek help from a team of professionals that are trained to work with overweight youth, including those who are developmentally challenged.
A weight management team typically includes a physician, specialty nurse, dietician, physical activity specialist and a psychologist.
The Role Of A Physician
A physician will be able to evaluate your child’s overall health, look at side effects of medications and look for any metabolic conditions. If the doctor determines that medications may be a culprit to your child’s weight gain or retention, your doctor can present you with possible alternatives to those medications.
The Role Of The Dietician
A dietician will help create an eating plan that suits your child. The food plan will include healthy choices and will be individualized based on your child’s needs and aversions.
The Role Of The Psychologist
The psychologist will be able to identify any eating related behavioral issues your child may have. Because each child is unique, a psychologist is helpful in developing a targeted plan to deal with behaviors that may include sneaking food, rituals and impulsive eating. Since many children with sensory and/or developmental issues can struggle with hunger awareness, a psychologist can help build hunger awareness in kids and help parents with setting limits.
Strategies For Parents
While having a weight management team on your side is essential, there are also strategies for parents to try at home.
Reward appropriate eating behaviors. Keep treats and extra food out of the sight and reach of children. Keep meals on a regular schedule. Distract your child as soon as they finish eating a meal to take their focus off of food.
Treating Each Child Individually
While each child and each situation is unique, these tips are general strategies and it is important to work with a physician and weight management team with experience in these issues.
Creating Brighter Futures uses individualized behavioral and play-based therapy to help improve your child’s skills. We offer proven ABA therapy and a comforting environment for children, and support and education for families. Please call Creating Brighter Futures today at 734-926-0740 to schedule a tour of our family based autism treatment center and to learn more about the services we provide children and families.