Social Skills and Autism

My son’s behavioral agency held a 12 week course for some of their clients on developing social skills with peers that are at the same level developmentally with a similar autism diagnosis. My son was a fortunate participant in this course on social thinking. It was based on the curriculum of Superflex and the Unthinkables created by Michelle Garcia Winner. Her website is and it’s a great resource for parents, teachers, SLPs, therapists and family members.  The Superflex curriculum teaches children on the spectrum fun and motivating ways to develop strategies for better self-regulation across a range of behaviors. It teaches “social smarts” through the various comic book characters that depict behavioral challenges kids on the spectrum face. My son loved this curriculum and his social skills have soared since he attended these classes. Just having the ability to let him know when his behavior is “unexpected” in a social situation helps him tremendously. He identified with some of the Unthinkable characters in the book and understood how others would perceive him as one.

Another resource for teaching social skills is the book Crafting Connections by contributors. Dr. Manny from loves this book and I really like Dr. Manny. He has a teenage son with autism and features articles on this topic frequently. Watch the video by Dr. Manny on Boosting Social Skills to learn more about this book from its author.

I have found that my 8 yr. old learns a lot through organized play dates with friends. He now initiates them and has applied his strategies he has learned on dealing with social cues and his behaviors that emerge during the one-on-one interaction with a friend. We are blessed to have some wonderful families involved in my son’s life and he has gained many friends through school, cub scouts, Taekwondo and church. If your child is high-functioning enough, get him/her involved in activities other than school to expand their social networking opportunities. You will need to meet parents of other kids, assess how their child interacts with yours and pursue those opportunities for your child. It has improved the quality of life for my son beyond measure.

Why You Should Read “Anticancer – A New Way of Life”

I have never done a book review on my blog, and I’ve read a lot of books on health and biomedical treatments.  Why am I doing this now? Because I have read a book that has touched me personally. It’s called “Anticancer – A New Way of Life” by David Servan-Schreiber. I keep telling my family and friends that they must read this book, so it occurred to me that perhaps I should write a review about it to better inform those that I touch through this blog.

This summer was a tough one for me and my family personally. My older sister became very ill, very quickly and was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. See, the doctors discovered it after it had spread to her lungs and gave her severe breathing problems. It was too late to even treat it, which I believe is a blessing. Why? Because I watched another dear sister of mine die from melanoma cancer just two years earlier. She fought for five, very tough, painful years to win the cancer battle, but lost it at the age of 55. Both sisters turned 50, and were diagnosed within a year. That completely freaked me out. I questioned, am I going to get cancer in my 50’s?! I’m going to be 50….someday. A wonderful friend and doctor recommended I read Dr. Schreiber’s book to allay my fears and take control of my health.

David Servan-Schreiber was a doctor and research scientist that was diagnosed with brain cancer. His search for preventing relapse and to improve his health led him on a journey that resulted in his book. Anticancer combines his memoirs, a concise explanation of what makes cancer cells thrive and what inhibits them, conventional cancer treatments along with alternative methods to slow and prevent cancer. It outlines the role of diet, exercise, stress management, and environment for reducing your chances for cancer. Cancer thrives on cell inflammation which can be regulated through the above mentioned factors. Our immune system is the front lines for fighting cancer cells and preventing them from developing into tumors. Certain food items or behaviors that have anti-inflammatory properties can help stop cancer from spreading. It’s all about taking care of our “terrain” so that cancer cells can’t grow.

The quote in his book that struck a chord with me is “All of us have cancer cells in our bodies. But not all of us will develop cancer.”  

It’s a touching book and yet very informative. He lists scientific studies on foods, herbs, stress management and other alternative treatments for cancer. He doesn’t advocate to not take the conventional approach to cancer treatment with chemotherapy/radiotherapy. He states how our body can benefit from both approaches in cancer treatment.

To summarize some of his findings:

  • Our traditional Western diet creates conditions for disease and he explains how to follow a science-based, anticancer diet.
  • How sugar and stress feeds cancer growth
  • The importance of Omega 3’s (EFAs) and eliminate Omega 6 fats (pro-inflammatory)
  • Organic vegetables, fruit, and meat reduce cancer causing pesticides exposure
  • Green tea, dark chocolate (70% or more), red wine (with a meal, in moderation!) and berries all have cancer fighting properties
  • Our main course should be 80% vegetables, 20% animal protein
  • Spices and herbs (such as: turmeric, thyme, rosemary, basil, mint, oregano) not only enhance flavor in your meals, but have anti-inflammatory properties and help reduce the growth of cancer cells.
  • Eat your grains whole and mixed (wheat with oats, barley, spelt, flax, etc) and favor organic whole grains since pesticides accumulate on them. And of course, avoid refined white flour.
  • Exercise to reduce stress and detoxify
  • Meditate, practice yoga, or find hobbies that relax and center you
  • Stay connected and involved with friends, family…cultivate happiness like a garden.

This review is only a fraction of what you can gain from his book. I highly recommend you read it and apply it to your life to prevent cancer, and for loved ones that are battling cancer. And for those families out there that are treating their child with autism/adhd/allergies/asthma biomedically, this book is for you too. I have always said that the number one reason I’m treating my son’s autism with biomedical treatments is to help him with his autism symptoms, and the second is to provide him with better health so that he can fight off cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, etc. His compromised immune system and chronic inflammation in his body gone untreated would create the optimum environment for cancer cells to grow.

I know as a busy parent, that we put our children’s health first at the expense of our own. But I am making a conscious effort to take charge of my own health, thanks to Dr. Schreiber.

Find out more on the book’s website:

My favorite mineral: Magnesium

Everyone in our family takes a magnesium supplement in addition to the magnesium we get from our diet. Magnesium is an essential mineral, which means our body needs it to function. We get it from our diet or with supplements. 

Lack of magnesium may lead to irritability, muscle weakness, and irregular heartbeat. Every organ in the body — especially the heart, muscles, and kidneys — needs the mineral magnesium. It also contributes to the makeup of teeth and bones. Most important, it activates enzymes, contributes to energy production, and helps regulate calcium levels as well as copper, zinc, potassium, vitamin D, and other important nutrients in the body.

Certain medical conditions, however, can upset the body’s magnesium balance. For example, an intestinal virus that causes vomiting or diarrhea can cause temporary magnesium deficiencies. Some gastrointestinal diseases (such as irritable bowel syndrome or IBS and ulcerative colitis), diabetes, pancreatitis, hyperthyroidism (high thyroid hormone levels), kidney disease, and taking diuretics can lead to deficiencies. Too much coffee, soda, salt, or alcohol as well as heavy menstrual periods, excessive sweating, and prolonged stress can also lower magnesium levels. Children on the autism spectrum tend to be low in magnesium due to digestive issues and diet.

Symptoms of magnesium deficiency may include:

  • agitation and anxiety
  • restless leg syndrome (RLS)
  • sleep disorders
  • irritability
  • nausea and vomiting
  • abnormal heart rhythms, low blood pressure
  • confusion
  • muscle spasm and weakness
  • hyperventilation
  • insomnia
  • poor nail growth

Magnesium will:

  • relax nerve impulses and muscle contractions
  • promote relaxation; aid in restful sleep
  • help lower blood pressure
  • keep your bones strong (especially when taken with calcium)
  • keep your heart healthy by lowering cholesterol
  • relieve symptoms of menopause and PMS
  • help the body absorb calcium and potassium

Fibromyalgia – A small preliminary clinical study of 24 people with fibromyalgia suggest that a proprietary tablet containing both malic acid and magnesium may improve pain and tenderness associated with fibromyalgia when taken for at least 2 months. Other studies suggest the combination of calcium and magnesium may be helpful for some people with fibromyalgia. Magnesium has been shown to relieve muscle pain and fatigue in individuals with Fibromyalgia.

Migraine headache – A few studies suggest that taking magnesium supplements may help prevent migraine headaches. In addition, a few clinical studies suggest that magnesium supplements may shorten the duration of a migraine and reduce the amount of medication needed. People who have migraine headaches tend to have lower levels of magnesium compared to those with tension headaches or no headaches at all.  Some experts suggest combining magnesium with the herb feverfew along with vitamin B2 (riboflavin) may be helpful when you have a headache.

Type 2 Diabetes – It is estimated that up to 80 percent of those with type 2 diabetes have a magnesium deficiency. High glucose levels, in patients with Type 2 Diabetes, will cause the body to flush magnesium from its system. In a recent study, people with diabetes who took magnesium supplements had improved insulin and glucose levels.

Heart Disease – “Magnesium does a heart good”. People with heart conditions, including heart attacks, high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms and coronary artery disease, tend to be magnesium deficient. Studies show that people with low amounts of magnesium in the body have double the risk of developing coronary heart disease, and that magnesium supplementation can lower cholesterol by as much as 20 percent. Magnesium supplementation can increase individuals’ magnesium levels and minimize the risks associated with heart disease.

DIET: The best dietary sources of magnesium include green leafy vegetables, nuts, peas, beans, and cereal grains in which the germ or outer layers have not been removed.  For example, spinach (1 cup) and pumpkin seeds (1 ounce) will provide about 157 mg.; long grain brown rice (1 cup) provides 84 mg.; 1/2 fillet of wild fresh salmon contains 59 mg. For a list of foods rich in magnesium, the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements has a list:

A diet high in fat may cause less magnesium to be absorbed. Cooking may decrease the magnesium content of food.

Diets that provide plenty of fruits and vegetables, which are good sources of potassium and magnesium, are consistently associated with lower blood pressure. The DASH study (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) suggested that high blood pressure could be significantly lowered by a diet high in magnesium, potassium, and calcium, and low in sodium and fat.  Evidence suggests that magnesium may play an important role in regulating blood pressure.

The U.S. RDA of magnesium intake for children 4 – 10 yrs is between 120 – 170 mg/day; adults between 270 – 400 mg./day.

To supplement your diet with magnesium, there are various forms of magnesium to choose from.

TYPE OF MAGNESIUM: Magnesium citrate, oxide, glycinate, and sulfate. For constipation, people use magnesium citrate, but for a good supplement for bodily functions without diarrhea, we use magnesium glycinate.

The various forms of magnesium will affect the digestive tract differently. Below are some guidelines on how your body may react to types of magnesium:

  • oxide:  tends to firm stools
  • glycinate:  a very gentle form of magnesium that is easier on the system
  • citrate:  tends to loosen stools
  • sulfate:  tends to loosen stools
  • chloride:  tends to loosen stools

Magnesium sulfate – Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate. Be sure to buy USP (U.S.Pharmaceutical grade). You can get them at the Dollar store, grocery.drug store and Costco. Epsom salts will:

  • ease stress and improve sleep
  • reduce inflammation and relieve muscle pain/cramps
  • flush out toxins
  • help prevent or ease migraine headaches

When given an Epsom salt bath, the magnesium and sulfate in the salts are absorbed into the body through the skin.  Sulfate is thought to circulate in the body up to about nine hours. Any Epsom salts left on the skin may continue to be absorbed as long as it is still on the skin, offering continuous ‘timed-released’ input into the bloodstream.  I put 1.5 to 2 cups of Epsom salts in hot bath water to dissolve and then add the cold water to balance the temperature. Soak for about 15 minutes before using natural soaps or shampoos. Others add baking soda and lavender oil to enhance the relaxation effects.  You can also do a foot bath of hot water and Epsom Salts for 15 minutes while watching TV/reading before bed.

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