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!

GABA: The Natural “Chill Pill”

Oh, if we all could just “chill out” as easily as my dog!  How many times have you thought that an individual you’ve encountered needed to just take a “chill pill”?  That old saying came up a lot in our house before I discovered the supplement GABA.  Both of my sons had anxiety and were impulsive, which are common in children with autism and ADHD.

That is, until we introduced GABA as a supplement.

GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) is an amino acid that acts as the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in our brain. It also keeps all the other neurotransmitters in check.  The GABA system acts as something of an information filter to prevent the nerves from becoming overstimulated.  It has long been suspected that this filtering process is compromised in many autistic children. Impairment of the GABA system could overwhelm the brain with sensory information, leading to many of the behavior traits associated with autism. GABA is also believed to play a key role in the early development of the brain.

Excitement in our brain needs a balance with inhibition. An unstable balance, or too much excitation will lead to restlessness, insomnia and irritability. GABA will balance this out, naturally. It is also involved with the production of endorphins in our brain, which provide us with that feeling of “all is good”, or what is often referred to as the “runner’s high”. GABA will reduce stress, relieve anxiety and increase alertness.

A deficiency of GABA can contribute to the poor inhibition that allows the brain to become over stimulated, which results in a constant state of anxiety. People with a GABA deficiency may experience:

  • anxiety/nervousness/jumpy or on edge
  • headaches
  • irritability
  • heart palpitations
  • seizures
  • hypertension

Factors that may reduce GABA levels:

  • B1, B6, zinc, manganese and iron deficiency
  • Chronic stress
  • Chronic pain
  • Mercury or lead exposure
  • Inadequate sleep

This can be helped with the GABA supplement.  Whenever you introduce a new supplement, always take it slow and go low on dose. We started with a 250 mg capsule (they can be opened up and mixed in drink/food) and worked our way up over several weeks until we found the dose needed for our children. My son with autism uses between 1,000-1,250 mg/day.  The effects wear off, so we dose throughout the day. I end the day with 500 mg at bedtime to induce relaxation for sleep.

My son with ADHD use to need 1,500 mg/day, but since we treated his ADHD with neuro-feedback, he now only needs 500 mg/day. GABA is a little known, but very effective supplement for symptoms resulting from autism and ADHD. It’s my family’s natural little “chill pill”.

Five Ways to Help Kids with ADHD

Over time, I have found that there are many things you can do for your child with ADHD that will help them stay positive, focused and less impulsive. Here I will list the five most important things I have found that help my son with ADHD.

  1. Diet – A healthy diet with good sources of protein, especially in the morning is essential. Breakfast is the most important meal for all of us, and it’s especially true for those that suffer from ADHD. Low sugar, high protein and complex carbohydrates are key. Of course, no artificial ingredients (colors, flavors or preservatives). Keep MSG out of the diet and make sure they have snacks (protein) between meals. I found that when my son’s blood sugar drops, his concentration and mood decline.
  2. Sleep – Everyone feels better and more alert when they’ve had a good night’s sleep. Kids with ADHD seem to struggle with getting a good night’s sleep. They sometimes have trouble falling asleep or wake in the night. Make sure they get the recommended hours of sleep for their age. A consistent bedtime will help along with no sugary foods after dinner.  The supplements GABA and magnesium are helpful for my son before bed. They are neuro-calming and help with sleep. Epsom salt baths also help calm and relax kids before bed. Some parents find that melatonin helps their child if they suffer from insomnia. My son couldn’t tolerate melatonin. Changing his diet and eliminating allergic foods helped with his night terrors he had from ages 2 – 9.
  3. Exercise – This is one of the most important elements.  A lot of kids with ADHD suffer from anxiety and mood disorders. Exercise will release anxiety, produce those good endorphins and stimulate blood flow to the brain.  They need daily exercise for at least 60 minutes.  My son’s mood is so much better when he has had plenty of exercise, he can focus and attend to homework, and he is healthier for it too.
  4. Motivators – Positive and disciplinarian in nature work best for our family.  Concise, achievable goals like earning rewards or privileges for accomplishments at school and with homework help my son with motivation. He is also held accountable for his negative actions. Clear, age-appropriate rules must be established with consistent monitoring of them.  And finally, always look for the positive and boost their fragile self-esteem with lots of praise, smiles and hugs.
  5. Supplements – Kids with ADHD have biochemical deficits that need additional supplementation to support important brain and nervous system function. I have found the following supplements beneficial in lessening the symptoms of ADHD in my son.
  • Essential Fatty Acids (EFA), particularly Omega-3s (DHA) really helps with focus, concentration and mood. About two-thirds of the brain is composed of fats. Myelin, the protective sheath that covers communicating neurons, is composed of 30% protein and 70% fat. I give my son omega-3 that are high in DHA. DHA reduces oxidative stress, enhances learning and memory, and is the most abundant omega-3 fatty acid in cell membranes within the brain. Omega-3s are anti-inflamatories and the primary building material for cell membranes, which let nutrients in and toxins out.
  • GABA is also a key supplement for my son. It is neuro-calming and reduces impulsive behaviors. GABA is an amino acid produced in the brain acting as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, a chemical that promotes communication between nerve cells in our central nervous system.
  • Pycnogenol is also beneficial for kids with ADHD. It’s a powerful antioxidant, a natural anti-inflammatory, and helps to dilate blood vessels which increases blood flow to the brain. It’s one of only a few antioxidants that can cross the blood-brain barrier. Studies have indicated that it is a more powerful antioxidant that vitamin C and E. It’s reported to help with cognition and focus.
  • Another amino acid that helps my son with cognition and focus is acetyl l-carnitine. It too can cross the blood-brain barrier and act as a powerful antioxidant. Studies have shown it improves kids symptoms with ADHD. The neurotransmitter in the brain, acetylcholine, is essential for proper brain function and the entire nervous system. Acetyl l-carnitine produces acetylcholine which helps in memory and mental alertness.
  • L-tyrosine is an amino acid and a building block for dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine;  neurotransmitters that helps regulate emotions. If levels of these neurotransmitters are insufficient, feelings of sadness, anxiety, irritability and frustration can result. Dopamine controls the flow of information to the other parts of the brain. This occurs in the frontal lobes (called the prefrontal cortex). Disorders in this part of the brain (like ADHD) can cause a decline in memory, problem solving, and attention. I found this supplement really helps my son with ADHD with his emotions and positive attitude. L-tyrosine should be taken at least 30 minutes away from meals since it will compete for entry to the brain with other amino acids (protein). Also, it should not be taken in conjunction with MAO inhibitor drugs.

You will notice that taking pharmaceuticals was not on this list. Prescription meds are a personal choice.  I have opted to treat my son’s ADHD biomedically with diet and supplements. We have found that  his ADHD symptoms were significantly reduced, and his overall health and well-being improved. Try to remember that your child with ADHD wants to succeed; they  just need your help in figuring out how, along with the nutritional support to help them in daily life.

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