Ho, Ho, Oh No!

If I were to take a poll of people and children (yes, I know, they are considered people too!) that have anxiety around costumed characters, it would be heavily weighted to more have issues than not.  I never knew about this fear until I met my sister-in-law and at first I laughed about it.  A grown adult afraid of costumed characters? I wasn’t being mean, just incredulous. I’ve always loved sitting on Santa’s lap, watching a clown perform or posing with Mickey Mouse for a photo. After all, we all know that there is a real person inside, right?

Well, apparently rational thoughts vanish from the head when someone with a costume character phobia gets within 10 feet of a costumed character. For the sake of this article, let’s coin the term “costumephobia”.  When my son with autism was 2 years old, I soon realized another person with costumephonia had entered my life. Little did I know that when we held him in our arms and posed with Goofy at Disneyland, he was having anxiety about it. When I sat him on Santa’s lap, he screamed and I couldn’t understand why. Clowns make him run frantically in the opposite direction and don’t even try to get him near that giant rat named Chuck E. Cheese!

Now that I have a better understanding of his phobia, I steer clear of any costumed character we come across. When we are at Disneyland, we steer the stroller in the opposite direction of a character. One time we didn’t notice the costume character Sulley from Monster’s Inc up ahead. (I know, he’s in a 8′ neon blue costume and we missed it!) Well, my son saw him and jumped out of the stroller (yes, he unbuckled it and fled a moving vehicle!) and took off in the opposite direction.

Today, our son with autism is old enough now to understand that a real person is inside the costume and that they won’t try to harm him. He can stand at a distance and observe them, but still will not willingly greet Santa. Last year at my husband’s office holiday party, Santa made an appearance and brought presents for the kids. When his name was called, my son ran up to him, grabbed his gift and ran back to safety. Apparently presents can entice him into a 5 second encounter and temporarily leave the costumephobia behind him!

What are parents with kids on the spectrum to do about their child’s valid phobia this time of year when around every corner you turn is a Jolly Ol’ Man with a scary fake beard?  Front loading your child before any outing or holiday party to let them know just what to expect will help those kids that are OK with seeing, but not getting close to a character. For kids that have extreme anxiety around a costume character, try showing them photos of the character, going to a store and touching a costume (or bring one home), talk about why they wear the costume and where you’ll be visiting that has characters there.

A supplement that can help anxiety is the amino acid GABA. It is neuro-calming and helps with the neurotransmitters that are needed to balance the excitement or anxiety in our brains.  Magnesium is also neuro-calming and can benefit those with anxiety.

During this holiday season, it’s best to anticipate what may happen and prepare your child with autism or costumephobia on what to expect. Don’t make the mistake I did and force your child to sit on Santa’s lap. Enjoy this holiday season and relax around your costumephobic friends and family. They need you to be empathic and accept their phobia. Ho, ho, ho!

Artificial food coloring is evil.

A magnet with this phrase hangs on my refrigerator; and it’s also stated on my cooking apron. As I pondered on how to approach this subject, I remember back to the days when I never read a food label or candy (no, it’s not food) label.  Ignorance sure was bliss…but was it? My kids would get impulsive, oppositional, hyper, spin around, lack focus, and make non-stop sounds before the “food label police” showed up at our house.  So I guess it wasn’t really bliss after all. I traded those behaviors for the inconvenience of having to read every single label on every single food item I bought or was given to my kids. But the trade-off was worth it!

My kids became calmer, quieter and not so emotionally charged. Melt downs decreased. Sleep habits improved. And above all, I knew that I was improving the health of my children, which is a good thing.

Yes, I do have to tell my kids NO to certain requests for food or candy their friends are eating, and at parties, or that dreaded artificial food colors and flavors/high fructose corn syrup holiday we celebrate, Halloween.  Or I pay the price of crazy behavior if I cave in and “let them eat colorful cake”. So I got resourceful or creative, however you view it. I taught my oldest son (he was eight-years-old at the time) to read food labels and explained what additives are bad for our bodies. He actually learned to read the label before he asked if we could buy something.  And I’d bite my lower lip whenever he picked up something I knew would have artificial ingredients in it and say “Shoot!” as he came across some artificial preservatives, colors or flavors. I let my kids trick-or-treat on Halloween. It’s one of their favorite holidays.  They get to choose one piece of candy to eat and then we trade the bag for a new toy (Legos at my house).  I buy candy treats that don’t have artificial ingredients. It definitely tastes better.

If you are not already familiar with the numbers you see on food labels, here are the most common: FD&C Blue Nos. 1 and 2, FD&C Green No. 3, FD&C Red No. 3, FD&C Yellow Nos. 5 and 6, Citrus Red No. 2.  And that lovely, ubiquitous Red No. 40 that can trigger such ugly behaviors in most kids. Red 40 is used in many food products including Kool-Aid, orange and other flavored sodas, Cheetos and Doritos chips (and the ever popular Flamin’ Hot Cheetos), strawberry Pop-Tarts, any candy with red coloring to it including M&M’s, Skittles, many chewing gums, etc. Also many children’s vitamins and pain relievers/cold medicine have red 40 in the ingredients. Why? Because if it’s colorful, our kids will want to eat it or take the medicine.

How many asthma sufferers are told by their allergists to avoid FD&C Yellow No. 5 (tartrazine)? There is a reason that food and medicine labels must declare that ingredient. This is an extended version of the ingredient declaration:  “This product contains FD&C Yellow No. 5 (tartrazine) which may cause allergic-type reactions (including bronchial asthma) in certain susceptible persons.”

Here is the biggest reason I think artificial (synthetic) food coloring is evil. Petroleum. Yes, most synthetic food dyes are created from petroleum.  The same base used to manufacture gasoline and heating fuels.  And if that’s not enough to make you spit out that Skittle, FD&C Blue No. 2 is manufactured in a chemical process that includes formaldehyde, aniline, several hydrozides under ammonia pressure, and heating in the presences of sulfuric acid. Oh, don’t worry, each batch is tested to ensure it doesn’t exceed the FDA’s prescribed limits for impurities. Most impurities are in the forms of salts or acids, but others include lead, arsenic and mercury. Yikes!

I’m sure you are asking yourself  “Why are these food dyes so common in our processed food supply? Why does the FDA allow it?” Well, that’s a topic for another blog.   The U.S. FDA hasn’t studied the effects of synthetic dyes on behavior in children. Another country did though. A randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial was conducted at Southampton University in England. They found a link to food dyes and hyperactive behavior in children. The research does not prove that food colorings actually cause ADHD behaviors but there does seem to be a link. The results were published in The Lancet medical journal in September of 2007.  The results of the study was a story in Time magazine. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1661703,00.html

Since this study, the U.K. banned artificial food dyes in 2008 and demand manufacturers use natural ones. U.S. companies use natural products in the U.K., while continuing to use artificial dyes in the products sold in the U.S.  Here’s something to chew on:

  • Aunt Jemima Blueberry Waffles contains no blueberries. The blue “bits” are Red 40 and Blue 2.
  • McDonald’s strawberry sauce, well it’s actually “McRed40” sauce. (The U.K. gets real strawberries)
  • Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats Blueberry Muffin has no real blueberries. Their “blueberry crunchies” are made with corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors and the colorful combo of Blue 2 and Red 40.
  • Kraft’s Guacamole Dip doesn’t get its greenish color from actual avocados. It gets it from the dye combo of Yellow 5 & 6 and Blue 1.
  • U.K. M&M’s and Skittles have natural food dyes in them. The ones with the bright colors made with artificial dyes are sold in the U.S.  Ours are prettier and brighter because natural dyes don’t have that artificial bright pigment you can obtain with a petro base. Don’t you feel special? Thanks to our FDA!

There are alternatives to foods and candy without dyes. And a great source is the Feingold Association. They have a shopping list of foods without these dyes listed by category and manufacturer.  Their website is http://www.feingold.org/.

https://healingautismandadhd.wordpress.com/2011/03/31/artificial-food-coloring-is-evil-part-2/

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