How can Ability Matters succeed where others have failed? The answer is simple. We assembled a team of experts with years of experience and made a plan. The plan is key for individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders because they are so schedule dependent. If they develop a healthy schedule, they will follow it religiously. If unhealthy schedules are established, they will do the same. The first area that we address weekly in our plan is Health and Wellness. In 2015, researchers discovered what people in the field had already noticed:
“Nearly all medical conditions were significantly more common in adults with autism, including immune conditions, gastrointestinal and sleep disorders, seizure, obesity, dyslipidemia, hypertension, and diabetes. Rarer conditions, such as stroke and Parkinson's disease, were also significantly more common among adults with autism.” (Croen LA, Zerbo O, Qian Y, Massolo ML, Rich S, Sidney S, Kripke C. The health status of adults on the autism spectrum. Autism. 2015 Oct;19(7):814-23. doi: 10.1177/1362361315577517. Epub 2015 Apr 24. PMID: 25911091.)
Adults with autism face a myriad of health conditions. While the cause of this phenomenon is still being studied, the treatment is the same for everyone facing health concerns – living a healthy lifestyle. We know that making good food choices and being physically active is important for everyone, but these lifestyle traits are even more important for individuals with autism. Restrictive routines, limited food preferences and sensory processing issues can result in an unhealthy lifestyle. But what if restrictive routines included being physically active and what if restrictive food preferences included healthy foods? Individuals with autism are just as prone to demand positive routines as negative if the routines are established. Unfortunately, aging out of school services with no where to go does not lead to the establishment of a healthy adult lifestyle. It leads to many hours of sedentary computer gaming and television watching. This requires staff who are dedicated to making daily movement a part of the individuals routine instead of indulging the temptations of a sedentary lifestyle. It is important to recruit staff who understand the importance of healthy living. After establishing the importance of health with staff, it is important to identify the interests of the individuals served. Interviews, interest inventories and observation can help us find the exercise that will appeal most to each person we serve. Experience tells us that the difference between an exercise routine that we stick with and one that we give up is the element of enjoyment. Capitalizing on water, trampoline and theme parks, swimming venues, fairs, museums, sports etc. allows us to get even the most sedentary individuals we serve moving. Even shopping or parking further away from a destination can add up to big health improvements if done regularly. If an individual we serve already has a workout routine, we are happy to have our staff continue that routine, but if they do not, we will work to establish one that motivates them to move some every day. Once individuals have a routine they rely on, they far exceed the persistence of a typical person, and their weakness becomes their strength.