The Information Sieve: Autism, Healthy Living, and a Big Fat Gap

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One of our we-don’t-want-it-to-be-a-secret secrets in the strength and fitness community is that we ( the learned and practiced strength and fitness community, both professional and enthusiast), have know a lot about gaining and maintaining health for some time (circa early 1900’s). Resistance training for women? Knew it prior to cars being commonly owned. Whole fat foods (milk, butter, avocado, coconut) being heart-healthy? We espoused it the first time handlebar mustaches were hip and when Brooklyn was acres of grass-fed farm land. Kettlebells? Around when bells were the epitome of rocking out. Preventing illness and enhancing physical fitness because it creates a sound constitution and can be a healthy social pursuit? Indubitably.

This recent and well-written article by Dr. Arshya Vahabzadeh in the Huffington Post discusses one of the most frustrating problems with regard to autism and the general issue of healthcare; (yes, I fancily used a semicolon) everything is reactive. Dr. Vahabzadeh discusses both the complications of gaining access to therapeutic treatments and the confusing and seemingly unending hailstorm of information and misinformation (thank you/screw you, Internet) that parents and caregivers of individuals on the spectrum encounter. From the onset of symptoms and diagnosis, nearly every step is reactive. The paragraph that caught me goes like this:

Some people with autism find it difficult to engage in regular exercise, through a combination of a lack of suitable opportunities, their own social difficulties, and stigma against them. Let me jump now to my other truth: As medical professionals we often prescribe medications but “there is no pill that can replicate the health benefits of exercise.” It is not limited to exercise either, what about diet? Many people with autism also find they are particularly picky about the food that they eat, often ending up on a “yellow diet” that includes starchy or fatty foods such as fries, cheese, burgers, and pizza. What are health care systems doing to address these issues? Unfortunately far less than they could be doing. – Arshya Vahabzadeh, M.D.

Each sign-up I get on my email newsletter suggests that some nice person is at least curious about physical activity for the autism population. I’ve likely mentioned it in past posts (or ranted about it during seminars), but when I started Autism Fitness  ten years ago the idea that exercise was highly important for young people with autism wasn’t initially received with fiesta-level enthusiasm. Much as the “weightlifting-will-make-you-bulky-and-turn-you-into-a-goat” dogma, there was a gap between perception of exercise/fitness/active play and it’s benefits. Add to that the near-constant upkeep of educational, vocational, behavioral, and social therapies (and fighting to receive those therapies), and the basics become less than an afterthought.

The basics relate to health; Nutrition, Physical Activity, Sleep, Positive Support, and having Self-time. Ironically, it is all, or most, of these that are pushed away in the pursuit of enhancement. And you just can’t have optimal enhancement without them.

This, as are all big problems, is one of those pesky multi-faceted things. It is not cured by a change in one area (Electro-conducive ionized wheat grass reverse osmosis water baths), but a meaningful and practical synergy of all participants, meaning parents and professionals begin to share information across disciplines and practitioner guidelines, Federal and State mandates, and social expectations and behaviors change as a result.  This is called progress and depending on the issue, can happen in one large sweep or gradually. I would argue that a national movement towards a more proactive approach to autism wellness will be on the gradual side. It’s not really an “add Vitamin C to Cheeze Curlz” type of fix.

I’ve developed an, as titled, overly generalized visual chart for establishing a more fitness-forward autism community. You can see it by clicking the link below

* (Thanks to one of my closest friends and colleagues Dr. Kwame Brown for introducing me to Prezi)

In our vocational capacities, we tend to view things through a rather narrow set of contingencies. I think everything from goldfish dandruff to nuclear disarmament can be cured through squats and monkey bars. Financial advisers cannot fathom how families do not have weekly budget meetings to alleviate social anxiety, and Dietitians know that cucumbers and kale will raise  social reciprocity. We’re all kind of right when things have proper balance.

I’m proposing, as I suspect Dr. Vahabzadeh (whose name I deeply hope I’ve spelled consistently correct in this post), would agree that in addition to access to services, the appropriate services are offered. Ignoring the practices of a healthy lifestyle has been an interesting social experiment and I think we can surmise that it has failed spectacularly. Our generation of young people with autism deserve a little more of what we (should) already know, that a healthier, more active foundation will lead to greater outcomes. Simple, bold declaration. Now all we have to do is make large, sweeping changes…one brush stroke at a time.

Live Inspired,



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