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How to Mindfully Parent an Autistic Child

By Miriam Mason, eHow Contributor

Changing your style of parenting from mainstream to mindful can make a huge difference in the life of your autistic child. Parenting mindfully means that you are attending without judgment to your child's inner needs and listening carefully to what you are saying to your child and how she is reacting to it. Being a mindful parent requires you to often check in with your own sense of well-being to center yourself and to hold in your mind some basic ideas. Most importantly, staying connected with your child is the key to reaching into her world and showing her that you are truly present with her and genuinely interested in her needs.Difficulty: Moderately Challenging
  • 1
    Listen to your child; he is communicating with you. If he doesn't have language, learn to listen for other signs, behaviors and physicalizations.  A child who is banging his head against the brick fireplace is saying something to you in the only way he knows how.  Give him more than a helmet; help him figure out what's wrong.  He could be hurting badly.
  • 2
    Follow her interests, regardless of how they appear to you.  If ripping up bits of paper and filtering them down through her fingers is what she loves to do, do it with her.  Even if she cannot acknowledge it, she will notice it, and this creates connection in a shared interest, which lays groundwork for more.  And later, such activities can be gently expanded upon, bringing a new shared connection.
  • 3
    Find ways to create physical connection that feels good to your child.  Whether this is prolonged nursing, offering skin to skin contact or taking a bath with him.  Physical touch is yearned for, even if the child is intolerant to most forms of touch.  Look for some way to give a satisfying response to that need for touch.  If the child is able to tolerate human touch, deep powerful hugs can help, as can squeezing the child's head in your hands, or allowing him to push his head as hard as possible against your hands while you provide resistance.  For those kids who cannot tolerate human touch, rolling the child up in a carpet or a squeeze machine will help provide that much-needed sense of touch.
  • 4
    Determine how to change your child's world if you cannot get your child to fit into the world the way it is now.  For example, if a child is having a negative response to a certain therapy room, figure out what in the room might be eliciting the response and change or remove it.  It could be a buzzing light, the movement outside a window, excessive noise, even the smell of glue or paint or the chemicals used for cleaning.  The child takes priority here, and the environment causing her distress should be changed to accommodate her, or she should be moved into an environment where she is comfortable.  This is a radical concept for many, but it is actually recommended by well-known author Dr. Gordon Neufield to re-establish connection with neurotypical children.  It holds even more weight for autistic children, for whom the world is a full-on sensory assault.  Do not be afraid to demand these changes from those whom the child must deal with every day, including teachers and therapists.  Make the world an easier place for her to cope.
  • 5
    Hold in your mind the idea that your relationship with your child is more important than any other one thing.  It is more important than goals that schools or therapists set, what society thinks, what the woman in the checkout line whispered under her breath while your child had a mini-meltdown, or being embarrassed by your child's actions or behaviors. Making your relationship with your child your highest priority doubles its advantage by preventing you from wasting your time worrying about what others are thinking and reacting to and instead doing what's really important and focusing on your child.
  • 6
    Strive for at least five minutes every day to see the world the way your child sees it. Think about what his perception of the world must be. Imagine a conglomeration of confused sounds, all blended together; imagine lights hurting your eyes and touch setting off a stinging explosion.  Imagine thinking without words---in pictures or sounds or feelings. This will help you remember what he is dealing with all the time, without the choice to do so.
  • 7
    Seek out her joy.  What makes her laugh and what makes her squeal in delight?  Find those things and do them often.  And be sure to share her joy from your heart.  Amazing things can happen when joy is deeply shared!
  • 8
    Assume that your child has the best intentions.  Every child, after all, is really trying to do his very best in what are often nearly intolerable situations and with fewer tools than adults.  Remember that your autistic child is trying to get his needs met using a small selection of tools.  Adding tools to accommodate the child's needs, such as keyboards for teaching nonverbals to communicate, or squish balls to help keep busy hands focused, or swings to help calm and balance the child, will all enhance your child's experience. Assuming good intentions from the onset keeps you in a connected place with your child, even in difficult circumstances and when tools are not readily available.
  • 9
    Trust your child.  Just as you are mindful of yourself---you know yourself, your body, your experiences, feelings and reactions better than anybody else---your child has the same experience.  Believe in what your child communicates to you, and trust that she will respond to your connection, appreciate it, love you and reciprocate in her own way, giving you back trust, love and connection to complete the circle.
  • 10
    Practice "get off your butt" parenting.  Be there to intercept and redirect before your child throws sand or is pushed into having a meltdown.  Foster communication by stating sentences you believe he would like to say, such as "Wow, I see you really want that toy, don't you?  Maybe we can ask for a turn.  Let's try asking, OK?"  Be his interpreter and his advocate; be active in his experience of life.  Your child will get it, even if he cannot speak the words yet to you. He will know you are the very connection through which he will learn to love his life and live in the world.

Tips & Warnings

  • Print this out and put it on your mirror to keep it active in your mind every day.
  • Take a few moments to meditate or check in with your mind whenever possible.
  • Laugh with your child at every opportunity.
  • If you doubt an interaction you just had with your child, you are probably right and it was not mindful.

Feb. 25, 2013— Environmental exposure to bisphenol A (BPA), a widespread chemical found in plastics and resins, may suppress a gene vital to nerve cell function and to the development of the central nervous system, according to a study led by researchers at Duke Medicine.
The researchers published their findings -- which were observed in cortical neurons of mice, rats and humans -- in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Feb. 25, 2013.
"Our study found that BPA may impair the development of the central nervous system, and raises the question as to whether exposure could predispose animals and humans to neurodevelopmental disorders," said lead author Wolfgang Liedtke, M.D., PhD, associate professor of medicine/neurology and neurobiology at Duke.
BPA, a molecule that mimics estrogen and interferes with the body's endocrine system, can be found in a wide variety of manufactured products, including thermal printer paper, some plastic water bottles and the lining of metal cans. The chemical can be ingested if it seeps into the contents of food and beverage containers.
Research in animals has raised concerns that exposure to BPA may cause health problems such as behavioral issues, endocrine and reproductive disorders, obesity, cancer and immune system disorders. Some studies suggest that infants and young children may be the most vulnerable to the effects of BPA, which led the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to ban the use of the chemical in baby bottles and cups in July 2012.

While BPA has been shown to affect the developing nervous system, little is understood as to how this occurs. The research team developed a series of experiments in rodent and human nerve cells to learn how BPA induces changes that disrupt gene regulation.

During early development of neurons, high levels of chloride are present in the cells. These levels drop as neurons mature, thanks to a chloride transporter protein called KCC2, which churns chloride ions out of the cells. If the level of chloride within neurons remains elevated, it can damage neural circuits and compromise a developing nerve cell's ability to migrate to its proper position in the brain.

Exposing neurons to minute amounts of BPA alters the chloride levels inside the cells by somehow shutting down the Kcc2 gene, which makes the KCC2 protein, thereby delaying the removal of chloride from neurons.

MECP2, another protein important for normal brain function, was found to be a possible culprit behind this change. When exposed to BPA, MECP2 is more abundant and binds to the Kcc2 gene at a higher rate, which might help to shut it down. This could contribute to problems in the developing brain due to a delay in chloride being removed.
These findings raise the question of whether BPA could contribute to neurodevelopmental disorders such as Rett syndrome, a severe autism spectrum disorder that is only found in girls and is characterized by mutations in the gene that produces MECP2.

While both male and female neurons were affected by BPA in the studies, female neurons were more susceptible to the chemical's toxicity. Further research will dig deeper into the sex-specific effects of BPA exposure and whether certain sex hormone receptors are involved in BPA's effect on KCC2.

"Our findings improve our understanding of how environmental exposure to BPA can affect the regulation of the Kcc2 gene. However, we expect future studies to focus on what targets aside from Kcc2 are affected by BPA," Liedtke said. "This is a chapter in an ongoing story."

In addition to Liedtke, study authors include Michele Yeo and Ken Berglund of the Liedtke Lab in the Division of Neurology at Duke Medicine; Michael Hanna, Maria D. Torres and Jorge Busciglio of the University of California, Irvine; Junjie U. Guo and Yuan Gao of the Lieber Institute for Brain Development and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md.; and Jaya Kittur, Joel Abramowitz and Lutz Birnbaumer of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

The research received funding from Duke University, the Klingenstein Fund, the National Institutes of Health (R21NS066307, HD38466 and AG16573), and intramural funds from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

Story Source: The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Duke University Medical Center.

Journal Reference:

  1. Michele Yeo, Ken Berglund, Michael Hanna, Junjie U. Guo, Jaya Kittur, Maria D. Torres, Joel Abramowitz, Jorge Busciglio, Yuan Gao, Lutz Birnbaumer, and Wolfgang B. Liedtke. Bisphenol A delays the perinatal chloride shift in cortical neurons by epigenetic effects on the Kcc2 promoter. PNAS, February 25, 2013 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1300959110

Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of ScienceDaily or its staff.

Feb. 25, 2013 — In a recently published study in the journal Biological Trace Element Research, Arizona State University researchers report that children with autism had higher levels of several toxic metals in their blood and urine compared to typical children. The study involved 55 children with autism ages 5-16 years compared to 44 controls of similar age and gender.

The autism group had significantly higher levels of lead in their red blood cells (+41 percent) and significantly higher urinary levels of lead (+74 percent), thallium (+77 percent), tin (+115 percent), and tungsten (+44 percent). Lead, thallium, tin, and tungsten are toxic metals that can impair brain development and function, and also interfere with the normal functioning of other body organs and systems.

A statistical analysis was conducted to determine if the levels of toxic metals were associated with autism severity, using three different scales of autism severity. It was found that 38-47 percent of the variation of autism severity was associated with the level of several toxic metals, with cadmium and mercury being the most strongly associated.

In the paper about the study, the authors state "We hypothesize that reducing early exposure to toxic metals may help ameliorate symptoms of autism, and treatment to remove toxic metals may reduce symptoms of autism; these hypotheses need further exploration, as there is a growing body of research to support it."

The study was led by James Adams, a President's Professor in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy, one of ASU's Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. He directs the ASU Autism/Asperger's Research Program.

Adams previously published a study on the use of DMSA, an FDA-approved medication for removing toxic metals. The open-label study found that DMSA was generally safe and effective at removing some toxic metals. It also found that DMSA therapy improved some symptoms of autism. The biggest improvement was for children with the highest levels of toxic metals in their urine.

Overall, children with autism have higher average levels of several toxic metals, and levels of several toxic metals are strongly associated with variations in the severity of autism for all three of the autism severity scales investigated.

The study was funded by the Autism Research Institute and the Legacy Foundation.
Story Source:

The above story is reprinted from materials provided by Arizona State University.

Journal Reference:

  1. James B. Adams, Tapan Audhya, Sharon McDonough-Means, Robert A. Rubin, David Quig, Elizabeth Geis, Eva Gehn, Melissa Loresto, Jessica Mitchell, Sharon Atwood, Suzanne Barnhouse, Wondra Lee. Toxicological Status of Children with Autism vs. Neurotypical Children and the Association with Autism Severity. Biological Trace Element Research, 2012; 151 (2): 171 DOI: 10.1007/s12011-012-9551-1


Dr. Martha Herbert’s Six Tips For Helping People With Autism

Dr. Martha Herbert, a pediatric neurologist at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital. She's also the author of a book called The Autism Revolution.

    1. Go for the extraordinary: See your children’s hidden gifts rather than dwell only their problems. People with autism are capable of astounding insights and creativity. Rejoice in their strengths and shore up their vulnerable spots, not “fix” them.
   2. Know what you can’t control — and what you can: The set of genes we are born with is what we will have for life, but that doesn’t mean it’s our destiny. The power of individual genes is shaped by our environment. Food, toxins, bugs and stress are the main culprits. Create as supportive and nourishing an environment as possible — for yourself and for loved one with autism.
   3. Repair and support cells and cycles: Two key function of cells are to make energy and take out the trash. There’s genetic evidence that some or many people with autism have cells that don’t perform these functions well. Build up cell health by eating foods high in antioxidants (fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, berries).
   4. Promote healthier immune and digestive systems: Stick to high nutrient foods (lots of fruits and vegetables). Avoid simple sugars and starchy carbohydrates that feed unhealthy bugs in the gut. Support the “good bugs” with high-fibre foods, or naturally fermented foods. Immune-supportive supplements such as vitamin, D, vitamin A, zinc, curcumin and fish oil (omega-3 fatty acids) help calm down a lot of inflammation pathways. Avoid pesticides by eating organic as much as possible. Protect your child against infections with vaccinations.
5. Help the body mend the brain: Eat a plant-based diet rich in antioxidants, phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals. Avoid heavily processed food and excitotoxins (MSG, aspartame, hydrolyzed vegetable protein) which can drive the autistic brain to over excitation or overactivation.
6. Calm brain chaos: The autistic brain has too much noise drowning out its weakened signals. Give your children relief from feeling hammered and disorganized by limiting sounds, sights, smells, or tactile experiences. Boost their coordination by giving them regular exercise, which also promotes sleep, an important way to mend the brain and strengthen the immune system’s ability to fight off infections. Some children with autism find animals and pets more calming and less emotionally demanding than people.
Source: The Autism Revolution, by Dr. Martha Herbert and Karen Weintraub

DisclaimerVitamin Wagon does not provide medical or legal advice or services. We are providing general information about autism as a service to the community. The information provided on this website is not a recommendation, referral, or endorsement of any resource, therapeutic method, or service provider and does not replace the advice of medical, legal, or educational professionals. Vitamin Wagon has not validated and is not responsible for any information or services provided by third parties. You are urged to use independent judgment and request references when considering any resource associated with the provision of services related to autism.
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