Digestive Enzymes – An Important Team Player

Football season is here and our family loves the Dallas Cowboys. I love to watch football with the men of my house.  The quarterback is the primary playmaker on the team and sets the game in motion. Digestive enzymes are like the quarterback in the digestion game in our gut. They get the ball rolling and involve the entire team in reaching the goal…digestion of foods so our bodies can get the nutrients to thrive on.  Digestive enzymes are needed to completely break down the foods and peptides for several reasons: to reap the all the nutrients in the food, and so the bad bacteria or yeast don’t have more food to eat and grow on.

Our body naturally produces digestive enzymes to break down foods before they start their trek through the intestines. We have enzymes in our saliva that aid in food breakdown. These enzymes are amylase, which break down carbohydrates along with our chewing of the food. Next stop is the stomach where stomach acid, muscles and the enzyme pepsin, breaks down proteins and work on the food for approximately an hour before it continues to the small intestine. Our small intestines release enzymes as well as our pancreas. Enzymes released in our small intestines are lactase (breaks down milk sugars), DPP IV (breaks down the milk and other protein bonds), and disaccharides (breaks down starches and sugars).

You can see that digestive enzymes have a lot of work to do and without them, our bodies cannot function properly just like a football team can’t function without its quarterback. Enzymes are required for your body to function properly because without enzymes you wouldn’t be able to breathe, swallow, drink, eat, or digest your food. Our cells won’t get the glucose for energy, amino acids for protein and toxins wouldn’t be removed from our blood.

Some Digestive Enzyme Facts:

  • Enzymes are proteins made by cells in our bodies and all living organisms.
  • Enzymes exist in all raw food.  All raw foods, including meats, have some enzyme activity.
  • The more raw food you eat, the less digestive enzymes your body needs to produce.
  • Cooking or other types of processing destroys enzyme activity.
  • Digestive enzymes, used properly, can provide a substantial benefit to most everyone, especially those consuming a great deal of cooked or processed food.

Enzyme Deficiency

Poor dietary habits, fast food consumption, and excessive intake of fat and sugars, all require excessive amounts of enzymes to digest our foods. Over eating foods that are void of enzymes (processed pre-packaged foods) and eating too much food results in a depletion of enzymes in the body. In particular, there is strain put on the pancreas to secrete greater amounts of enzymes than normal. The result is an exhausted pancreas. To reduce the load on the pancreas, the immune system lends its white blood cells which have stores of enzymes to aid in the digestive process. The result of this is impaired immune function. By ensuring our body has sufficient enzymes not only supports the digestive process, but the immune system as well.

Eating a food or food group too frequently will also contribute to an enzyme deficiency. Foods that are more likely to cause allergies/sensitivities are the ones that are consumed the most: eggs, wheat/gluten, milk, corn and soy. When these foods are consumed several times a day for years it creates an enzyme deficiency for that food and the body can no longer break down the proteins or starches and causes a reaction when the peptides enter our bloodstream.

When food is properly digested, it is broken down into substances that the body recognizes and can utilize. If food molecules are not broken down into their smallest form (by enzymes) when they enter the bloodstream the body recognizes them as foreign invaders and attacks. When the body no longer can handle the overload of food that it cannot properly digest and utilize, the result is food allergies and intolerance, indigestion, gas, bloating, heartburn, constipation, and diarrhea. There are other symptoms of our body’s imbalance from incomplete digestion such as asthma, environmental allergies/sensitivities, candida over-growth, arthritis, obesity, eczema, fatigue, headaches, and hyperactivity.

One digestive enzyme that tends to be insufficient in a lot of ASD kids, as well as kids with ADHD, is DDP4 (dipeptidyl peptidase-IV).  This enzyme is found in the gut and is responsible for breaking a bond between amino acids in peptides formed during protein digestion. Problems occur when there is a lack of DDP4 which causes incomplete digestion of the gluten (wheat) and casein (dairy) molecules, leaving a mischievous peptide. In the case of damaged or leaky guts, these peptides called gluteomorphin (gluten) and caseomorphin (casein) can pass into the blood, where they do harm because they evoke an immune response. They can also mimic endorphins that cause changes in perception, mood, and behavior.  This is one reason why the gf/cf (gluten-free/casein free) diet is so effective in reducing behaviors in kids with autism. It’s the elimination of the offending peptides from the diet.

Types of Enzymes

  • Amylase  – breaks down carbohydrates, starches, and sugars (found in fruits, vegetables, potatoes and a lot of snack foods)
  • Protease  – breaks down proteins (found in meats, eggs, cheese, and nuts)
  • Lipase  –   breaks down fats (found in most dairy products, meats, oils, and nuts)
  • Cellulase  – breaks down cellulose, plant fiber

When one supplements digestive enzymes, plant derived enzymes are the most effective. They are obtained from the lysosomes of live plant cells.  They are more effective because they can survive the acidic environment in the stomach and different PH levels in the small intestines. Animal derived digestive enzymes that mimic our pancreatic enzymes only survive in the alkaline environment of our small intestine.

Digestive Health & Foods That Support It

In order to keep our digestive and overall health at its best, eating more raw vegetables, nuts, and fruits is important. Papaya and pineapple are the best sources of foods that contain naturally occurring digestive enzymes. Papaya contains the naturally occurring digestive enzyme papain, which helps to digest protein. Pineapples contain the digestive enzyme bromelain, which acts as an aid for indigestion. Pineapples also contain multiple anti-inflammatory enzymes. Mangos, watermelon, blueberries, raspberries and grapefruit also contain naturally occurring digestive enzymes.  Parsley, kale, broccoli, celery, cabbage and beets and beet greens are excellent choices for raw vegetables that contain naturally occurring digestive enzymes. Wheat grass and aloe vera  juice contain a lot of enzymes.

All raw food contain digestive enzymes; naturally fruits and vegetables are excellent sources. Some smart fruit choices are  fresh apples, figs, pears, cherries, peaches, strawberries and apricots. For vegetables, all of the bell peppers: red, yellow, green and orange, as well as tomatoes, are excellent choices.

Balancing your meal with raw foods in addition to cooked foods can assist your body in the digestive process, just as the quarterback balances out the game with running plays, passing or handing off the football. For example, a salad or raw veggies along with your steak or chicken breast will help ease the demand on your body to release digestive enzymes since the veggies in the salad contain enzymes. Same goes for the quarterback when he hands the football off to the running back; which saves his throwing arm and reduces the risk of interceptions.

For more information on using digestive enzymes for your child, refer to my page on enzymes.

https://healingautismandadhd.wordpress.com/diet-2/digestive-enzymes/

Artificial Food Coloring Is Evil (Part 2)

The U.S. Food & Drug Agency (FDA) is holding hearings over the next two days on artificial food coloring in our food supply and the effect it has on children with ADHD. They have asked for a panel of experts to present evidence of a link between these artificial dyes in food and ADHD in kids, with possible recommendations on policy changes like warning labels on food. Believe me, I’m pleased to see the attention it is getting which means more parents are learning about the harmful effects of artificial food colors. Here are the links to some of the mainstream media coverage of it.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/30/health/policy/30fda.html

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704471904576228550619608050.html

http://www.usnews.com/mobile/articles_mobile/fda-panel-examines-possible-links-between-food-dyes-adhd

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/food-dyes-hyperactivity/story?id=13221478

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-rainbow-of-food-dyes-in-our-grocery-aisles-has-a-dark-side/2011/03/21/AFyIwaYB_story.html

http://healthland.time.com/2011/03/28/does-food-dye-make-kids-hyper-an-fda-panel-will-investigate/

I am not holding my breath that the FDA will actually ban the dyes, in fact I know they won’t. Maybe a warning label, but I doubt it would be stern enough to draw any attention from unsuspecting consumers. Yes, I’m cynical when it comes to our FDA actually doing something that is good for us, the consumer. They lean more toward protecting the food and drug manufacturers that will put a lot of money against any initiative to ban or label their products with artificial dyes. After all, their future job security at these consumer packaged goods companies are at risk if they do their present job at the FDA correctly. Yes, the job exchange program between food and drug manufacturers and our FDA and CDC happens all the time…and it’s been going on for years.

All that really needs to be done is have some of the high level decision makers at the FDA feed their kids a diet filled with these toxic food dyes for two days and monitor their behavior at home and school. Then take them completely off the dyes for a few days and see the dramatic difference. And it does not ONLY affect kids with “sensitivities” like some media outlets are reporting. You don’t have to have ADHD or autism to be affected by these dyes. Read my original post to learn more about them and how they are manufactured.

https://healingautismandadhd.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/artificial-food-coloring-is-evil/

I’m sure if food and drug manufacturers do have to put a disclaimer on their packaging we will see some really awful television ads renaming their artificial food dyes to something like “natural colorful additives”.  You may think I’m being sarcastic, but have you heard how the Corn Refiners Association (corn farming industry) has renamed High Fructose Corn Syrup to “Corn Sugar”?  And they even have the audacity to say that corn sugar is handled the same by your body as sugar or honey. HA!  You can read just how our body processes that artificial sweetener in my post below. This deceptive marketing is tolerated by our FDA.  Enough said.

https://healingautismandadhd.wordpress.com/2010/02/17/just-say-no-to-high-fructose-corn-syrup/

HBOT Isn’t Just for Michael Jackson

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) has been around for decades and the healing properties of it have been utilized by many doctors, researchers, athletes, and yes, even Michael Jackson. My first impression of HBOT was when I learned how it helped scuba divers with the “bends”, or decompression sickness, which occurs when the diver surfaces to quickly and nitrogen builds up in their body. It’s very painful and can even cause death. The treatment is to quickly get them to a pressurized chamber and have them breathe 100% oxygen.

In the 1980’s Michael Jackson started napping in a HBOT chamber to reap the health benefits and to preserve his youth. Seemed sort of creepy and strange to most everyone, and made you believe that HBOT was only for the wealthy. Star athletes, like Lance Armstrong, and major sport franchises have their own chamber to aid athletes in recovery from injury quicker.

What is HBOT?

Hyperbarics is a technology in which the air pressure in the environment is increased.

Hyper means increased and baric relates to pressure. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) thus refers to intermittent treatment of the entire body with 100-percent oxygen at greater than normal atmospheric pressures.

HBOT involves inhaling 100% oxygen at greater than one atmosphere absolute (ATA) in a pressurized chamber.  The air we breathe at sea level is defined at 1 ATA. Low pressure/mild hyperbarics uses 1.5 ATA or less. When a person’s body is placed in a more pressure environment, it absorbs more oxygen molecules per volume of compressed air. The body normally transports oxygen via the hemoglobin of the red blood cells. By increasing the air pressure, oxygen is then driven into the body’s fluids, allowing a super-saturation of the tissues and organs with oxygen.  The increased pressure infuses the body with oxygen, even reaching injuries with damaged circulation. An example of this is a blood clot in the brain (stroke).

What are the benefits of HBOT?

  • It greatly increases oxygen concentration in all body tissues, even with reduced or blocked blood flow.
  • Stimulates the growth of new blood vessels to locations with reduced circulation which aids the body in its own healing process.
  • Increased oxygen greatly enhances the ability of white blood cells to kill bacteria.
  • Reduces inflammation in the gut and brain
  • Increases blood vessel diameter greater than when therapy began, improving blood flow to compromised organs.
  • Reduces oxidative stress
  • Reduces swelling at injury site
  • Removes toxins such as heavy metals from the body

Why HBOT for autism?

Multiple studies have shown that autism is a neurodegenerative (a loss of nerve cells/death of neurons) disease that features cerebral hypoperfusion, brain and GI inflammation, and increased oxidative stress. Hypoperfusion refers to decrease blood flow. Numerous studies on children with autism have shown decreased blood flow to the brain, especially in the temporal regions.  The temporal lobes are responsible for speech, memory, emotional responses, auditory and visual processing, and olfactory (sense of smell)).  This hypoperfusion is associated with many core symptoms of children with autism.

Decreased blood flow to the temporal lobes has also been correlated with an “obsessive desire for sameness”, “impairments in communication and social interaction”, and also with decreased IQ. Decreased blood flow to the temporal lobes and amygdala has been correlated with impairments in processing facial expressions and emotions and trouble recognizing familiar faces. Decreased blood flow to the thalamus has been correlated with repetitive, self-stimulatory, and unusual behaviors including resistance to changes in routine and environment.

Cerebral hypoperfusion causes hypoxia (or decreased oxygen), which triggers electrical failure in brain cells. Worsening hypoxia then eventually results in ion pump failure, which ultimately leads to cell death. Studies have shown that the oxygen delivered by HBOT can reverse hypoxia in brain tissues caused by hypoperfusion.

Inflammation is a known cause of decreased bloood flow.  Research has shown us that when the GI tract is inflamed, so is the brain and immune system. It’s the triad of the gut, brain and immune system that are susceptible to inflammation if one of the three is damaged. HBOT improves gut inflammation by killing off the bad bacteria. Bacteria thrives on an oxygen deprived environment. When infused with oxygen, it dies off.  Therefore, having a good probiotic on board, anti-oxidants like vitamin E, selenium, glutathione, and melatonin are recommended during HBOT treatments.

HBOT has improved symptoms in children with autism including enhancements in socialization, language, and repetitive behaviors. The GI tract improves, inflammation is reduced/eliminated, better sleep and improvements will continue months after treatment is concluded.

Hard Chamber or Soft Chamber?

This question is dependent on the child and doctor’s assessment of need. The hard chamber provides 100% oxygen at 1.5 ATA.  The soft chamber uses room air and an oxygen concentrator that delivers 28% oxygen at 1.3 ATA.  Less pressure, less oxygen concentration. Both chambers have shown effectiveness in eliminating symptoms of autism through studies.

The advantage to the soft chamber is parents can purchase or rent them for their home. This becomes more feasible for families that don’t have HBOT providers close to home. And all members of the family can be treated in the comfort of your own home. Plus you can take electronics into a soft chamber, so a game system like my son’s Nintendo DS will help occupy his time.

The number of treatments range from 40 dives to 80 dives. Each treatment is one hour. Most clinicians recommend at least 40 dives. Improvements may be seen as early as 10 dives, depending on the child. The recommendation is to have 40 treatments over 8 weeks. That’s 5 days/week with weekends off.

Cost of HBOT session range from $100-$150 per session. It is not for the faint of heart when committing to this financial investment in your child. I’m still investigating the cost of renting a soft chamber, so that will also factor into our decision on which chamber we’ll use.

Why HBOT for our son?

Well, the above information I provided is one reason. The main reason I am pursuing this therapy is that my son with autism suffered from obstructive sleep apnea from the age of 9 months to 2 yrs 10 mos. His sleep study indicated hypoxia, which means he is a perfect candidate for benefiting from HBOT. I believe he has brain cells that are “idling” right now and will get turned back on with the oxygen infusion. He also battles gut bacteria, low glutathione levels, and heavy metal toxicity, which will be reduced/eliminated with HBOT.

We have not determined which chamber we will pursue. A hard chamber is available to us, but is a one hour drive from our home. It takes approximately 15 minutes in the chamber to get to the pressure level and then each session is one hour. 15 more minutes to come back to normal pressure, resulting in a total of 1.5 hrs inside the chamber. Add to it the 1 hr drive to and from and our HBOT treatments now will take approximately 4 hours out of our day. We anticipate to start in the summer, with the break of school. The soft chamber rental is still an option that we are investigating. Both options appeal to us and we need to determine what is best for our child and family.

If you’re thinking about HBOT for your child, there is a ton of information on the internet and the research with children on the autism spectrum. We’ve been wanting to do this treatment for 2 years now, and 2011 is the year we will achieve this goal.

Do You Get Enough Vitamin C In Your Diet?

Is it possible to get too much vitamin C? Yes, but it’s also possible that you may not be getting enough to support important immune functions in your body. I happen to love this vitamin. It does so much for our health and is readily available in so many fruits and vegetables.  The RDA of vitamin C is 75 – 90 mg/day for adults, but as in most RDA for vitamins and minerals, it is not enough to keep your blood levels high.

Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin. Water-soluble vitamins dissolve in water and are not stored in the body.  They are eliminated in our urine, so excess amounts are excreted, thus overdose is not a concern. But it’s still important not to exceed the safe upper limit of 2,000 milligrams a day to avoid stomach upset and diarrhea.

Our bodies cannot make vitamin C. In order to reap the health benefits of vitamin C, you must have a continual supply in your diet, or take a dietary supplement.

Eating vitamin C-rich foods is the best method to ensure an adequate intake of this vitamin. While many common foods contain vitamin C, the best food sources are citrus fruits. One orange, a kiwi fruit, 6 oz. of grapefruit juice or 1/3 cup of chopped sweet red pepper each supply enough vitamin C for one day.

Still, American Dietetic Association spokeswoman Dee Sandquist, RD, suggests doing your best to work more fruits and vegetables into your diet before taking supplements.

“Strive to eat nine servings of fruits and vegetables daily, because you will get a healthy dose of vitamin C along with an abundance of other vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that are good for disease prevention and overall health,” she says.

Here are all the foods and beverages you’d need to consume in a day to reach 500 milligrams (mg):

  • Cantaloupe, 1 cup: 59 mg Vitamin C
  • Orange juice, 1 cup: 97 mg
  • Broccoli, cooked, 1 cup: 74 mg
  • Red cabbage, 1/2 cup: 40 mg
  • Green pepper, 1/2 cup, 60 mg
  • Red pepper, 1/2 cup, 95 mg
  • Kiwi, 1 medium: 70 mg
  • Tomato juice, 1 cup: 45 mg

I know what you are thinking. Most Americans eat on the go, fast food, or simple don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables a day to get 50 mg of vitamin C, let alone 500 mg. Especially parents of special needs kids and their picky eating habits. I know only one friend that has her son eat this many vegetables a day, and he is also on the gf/cf diet.  She is one smart cookie and started him out at a young age eating fruits and vegetables. I wish I’d done that with my sons at an early age. I am now struggling with getting my son with autism to try new fruits and vegetables. My older son’s palate is much more daring and he likes to try a variety of new recipes; even if they include vegetables. But since vitamin C is water-soluble, veggies lose its vitamin C when cooked. Raw veggies are best, but sometimes just not a reality for most families.

Why do we need vitamin C?

The body needs this vitamin to keep it in good working order. Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C helps hold body cells together, aids in wound healing, assists in bone and tooth formation, strengthens the blood vessel walls, is vital for the function of the immune system, and improves absorption and utilization of iron. It is also a natural anti-histamine.

Vitamin C is an antioxidant and it works with vitamin E as a free-radical scavenger. Studies suggest that vitamin C reduces the risk of certain cancers, heart disease, stroke, and cataracts.

Stress reduces our bodies vitamin C supply. Vitamin C can benefit individuals whose immune system is weakened by stress. Because it is one of the nutrients sensitive to stress, it is the first nutrient to be depleted in alcoholics, smokers and obese individuals.

Vitamin C is heavily concentrated in the brain and crucial to brain function. The earliest signs of deficiency is confusion and depression. Studies have shown vitamin C to improve cognition and alertness.

Vitamin C supplements are plentiful on the market. Something you should consider is the source of the vitamin. Most vitamin C supplements are derived from corn. This created a problem for my oldest son since he showed an allergy to corn. I found a corn and citrus-free version by Twinlabs called Allergy C. It’s made from sago palm. Keep in mind that sago palm contains salicylates if your child reacts to them. I give it with the morning digestive enzyme TriEnza that contains No Phenol digestive enzyme.

I give my son with autism a vitamin C supplement. He gets 250 mg in the morning and another 250 mg after school. This helps maintain a more even blood level than taking all 500 mg at once. When he is sick with a cold I up the dose to 750-1,000 mg/day. He takes a corn-based supplement since he has phenol sensitivity and no allergy to corn.

Colostrum Isn’t Just for Babies

Nature’s first milk. Golden, life-sustaining. Gut healing. Immune boosting. Colostrum is not just for babies, anymore.  It is for any child or adult that may benefit from its wonderful healing properties.

What is Colostrum?

It is the first milk from humans and animals, produced by the mammary glands in late pregnancy and in the days after giving birth. During the first few days after birth, colostrum provides the necessary immune and growth factors (IgG and IgF), to stimulate growth of muscle, skin, cartilage, nerve and bone tissue.

What are the benefits?

Colostrum has been shown to aid in a variety of  disorders such as:

  • allergies and asthma
  • sinus problems, colds & flu
  • irritable bowel syndrome/leaky gut syndrome/ulcers
  • auto-immune disorders
  • diabetes
  • chronic fatigue
  • arthritis/rheumatoid arthritis

The health benefits of colostrum can be attributed to the fact that it contains 97 immune factors, 87 growth factors and a variety of different probiotics along with prebiotics that help grow and feed the beneficial flora in the colostrum and in your gut. The prebiotics in colostrum act as a food source for the ‘good bacteria’, enhancing the health of the gut and therefore immune system. Prebiotics can also improve bowel function as healthy levels of good bacteria can assist with constipation.

The high levels of IgG (immunoglobulin) provide exceptional immune boosting properties to prevent disease.  Immunoglobulins (IgG) are protein molecules that function as antibodies and play a major role in intestinal immune defense.

In 1980, a British researcher showed that a large proportion of the antibodies and immunoglobulins in colostrum are not absorbed by the body but remain in the digestive tract. Clinical studies have demonstrated that colostrum is effective in preventing intestinal infections by first keeping the bacteria from attaching themselves to the intestinal wall, and secondly by killing the bacteria themselves. Colostrum has proven capable of killing Campylobacter, Helicobacter pylori, Listeria, Salmonella, Shigellosis, and five types of streptococci.

A high level of IGF (insulin-like growth hormone) in colostrum stimulates tissue building and repair in adults.  It is highly beneficial in combating the effects of aging  joints, leaky digestive systems and assisting athletes build lean muscle.

The antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial properties of colostrum enable it to kill such pathogens as E. coli, Candida albicans, rotaviruses, and Cryptosporidium.

The proline-rich polypeptides (PRP) in colostrum has been demonstrated to reduce or eliminate the pain, swelling, and inflammation associated with allergies and autoimmune diseases (multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus). Many children with autism test positive for autoimmune disorders, and colostrum can help to regulate this dysfunction. These effects are related to PRP’s ability to inhibit the overproduction of lymphocytes (white blood cells) and T-cells.

What we experienced with Colostrum:

When you begin taking colostrum, you’ll need to start with a low dose for a week or two and then increase it. Our sons took 1/4 tsp. in the morning and night before increasing the dose to 1/2 tsp. in the AM/PM.  The first thing I noticed was emotion regulation was affected. Increased tears, anger and easy frustration levels may have been a result from the initial die-off reaction of bacteria in the gut. Once the body adjusted, these behaviors disappeared.  Then we saw allergy symptoms lessen, improved bowel function and overall health in skin tone and hair.

For families on the GF/CF diet, Kirkman Labs sells Colostrum Gold that is a liquid (flavored or unflavored). They claim that it is casein free and does not contain any synthetic hormones, pesticides or antibiotics. It does not contain sugar, soy, wheat, casein, gluten, preservatives, yeast, gelatin, artificial flavorings or colorings. But it does contain milk. We use Kirkman’s Colostrum Gold flavored version mixed in a little bit of juice. The unflavored has a pretty foul taste, so make your choice wisely based on your child’s tolerance of nasty tasting things.

For the science geek in you, read further to discover the properties of colostrum:

Growth hormones – TGF, IGF-I, IGF-II

Immunoglobulins – IgG, IgA, IgM, IgD, IgE

Lactoferrin iron binding protein – for resisting intestinal bacteria and free radical damage

Retinoic Acid – destroys viruses, stimulates healing

Proline-rich Polypeptides (PRP) – for calming overactive immune system; stimulating under-active immune system

Glycoproteins – help immune and growth factors survive the highly acidic digestive system

Lactobacillus Bifidus Acidophilus – helps promote healthy bacteria to combat Candida albicans and irritable bowel syndrome

Interferon – inhibits viral activity

Interleukin-2 – a cytokine that stimulates cell growth in the immune system

Lysoenzyme protein – attacks bacteria

Oligosaccharides – block attachment of bacteria especially S.pheumponococci to mucous membranes, thereby aiding in the prevention of respiratory inflammation

Cartilage Inducing Factor A, as well as vitamins and minerals

Sequencing, Taekwondo and Autism

My seven-year-old son with autism used to get confused when it came to sequencing. That was 3 years ago; he now is a pro at it. Well, a second-degree red belt pro that is. Yes, Taekwondo has done wonders for his ability to learn sequencing. It also helps with focus, attention, respect, community, self-defense, and self-esteem.  So if you’re not familiar with the practice of Taekwondo and why it helps kids on the spectrum with sequencing, let me explain how.

When students of Taekwondo earn their belt colors/testing, they must master the Taekwondo forms/patterns called Taegeuk for that belt level. There are eight Taegeuk (forms) in the World Taekwondo Federation (WTF) that students learn and perform at testing for a color belt. This shows that the student can display their proficiency in individual techniques and the ability to perform techniques in a logical sequence.  The Taegeuk patterns are all intended to simulate multiple attacks coming at the student from all sides. Each Taegeuk has 18 techniques/steps to master.  The Taegeuk patterns become progressively more complex, and introduce more advanced techniques the higher you go.  By the time the student reaches black belt, they will have learned 8 Taegeuk forms, and must demonstrate a mastery of each in sequence for their black belt test. This is the goal of my seven-year-old with autism.

When my son began taking Taekwondo classes at age 5, I thought that perhaps this was an outlet for him to expend energy, learn to focus and pay attention to his master, and perhaps boost his self-esteem. Now keep in mind this studio is for neuro-typical kids and adults. My son is expected to behave, focus and attend just like all the other kids. The first few months were challenging and I thought that maybe we’ll be lucky if he gets to the next level after white belt (first belt), which is yellow belt. When I witnessed a yellow belt class practicing the first Taegeuk form and saw the 18 techniques taught in sequence, I thought that would put my son over the edge and would be the end of Taekwondo for him. Nope! Again, my son continues to amaze me with his perseverance, tenacity and just plain stubbornness.

He not only learned all 18 techniques in the proper sequence, he overcame his fears and did his first board breaking. Granted, he covered his ears due to the loud snap of the board, but he was only using his leg/foot to break the board, not his hands. Yet. Fast forward to a few more belt testings later, and he must now do the previous three Taegeuk forms, plus the new fourth one. Yep, he learned them with ease. He has mastered sequencing.

Now the board breaking technique for this belt test is knife hand strike, where he must break the board using one of his hands. I thought, how in the world is he going to get through this? He can’t cover both his ears AND break the board at the same time! Well, my son’s Taekwondo master is awesome. He worked with my son on this technique by using x-ray film sheets (that make loud sounds when hit) first. Slowly, he encouraged him in class to try the x-ray sheet with his knife hand strike while the other students were working out.

So when it came to testing and he had to stand up in front of the entire class and their parents to do this technique without covering his ears, it was effortless. He did it! And miraculously, his fear of the loud sound the board breaking makes was vanquished. Every belt test after that, he looked forward to board breaks with excitement and performed them without anxiety. Talk about a self-esteem booster!

We are 2 1/2 years into our son’s Taekwondo journey to black belt. Last week he tested for second degree red belt and passed his 7th Taegeuk form with flying colors. To date, he has learned seven forms with 18 techniques within each one! His board breaking technique was jump back spinning kick. Yes, a sequence again! And he mastered it so well, he broke the board on his first attempt. I can’t be more proud of his accomplishments in earning his Taekwondo belts. Next May (6 months) he will hopefully be ready for his black belt test.  My son, the black belt.  Oh, and he will have overcome his autism disability to obtain it. I’m already celebrating!

Update Nov. 2011 – my son the black belt!

 

If you live in the Santa Clarita Valley, in Southern California, I highly recommend the Tae Ryong Taekwondo Studio taught by Sr. Master Chad Moore. He is a sixth degree DAN black belt and a wonderful instructor. He has classes for all levels/abilities for children and adults. His website is www.taeryong.net.

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!

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