Simple Holistic Helps for the Special Needs Child

The following is a guest post from Cara Faus of Health, Home, and Happiness.  Thank you, Cara!  We’re honored to have you here today to share your thoughts and experience with us.

Even before I had a special needs child, I valued taking a holistic approach to treating any health problems that came up. I believe that nearly any physical problem indicates an underlying issue, and so the entire body should be taken into consideration when seeking treatment. This has been especially true with my child with autism, I have found looking at her issues as a whole to be the most effective way of helping her.

Today I am going to share some of the tips that I have found that made the biggest difference in her life. Differences that have allowed her to learn more, be happier, and grow healthily.

Learning About Sensory Issues

Learning about sensory issues was one of the biggest ‘ah ha!’ moments in our lives. Many special needs children have issues with how the message of sensory input gets to their brain. In our case, my daughter is over sensitive to light and visual sensation, and under sensitive to physical sensation.

This means that she gets overwhelmed with bright lights and when there is too much to look at (think big-box stores!) and craves physical touch to the point of acting aggressive and clingy while she tries to fulfill that need. When the needs for less visual stimulation and more physical stimulation are met, she is able to regulate her emotions, learn, and is much happier!

Some ways to decrease stimulation for kids who are over stimulated:

  • Sunglasses both block part of the peripheral vision and darken bright lights and bold colors.
  • A cold weather headband blocks noise, wind, and cold from the ears.
  • Food can be uniform in texture and still be healthy, this reduces the stimulation of eating.
  • A tent or special hiding place with quiet toys can be a welcome break from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
  • Eliminate electronic toys.
  • Take the child’s clothing preferences into account and look for clothing without itchy seams or tight fitting waists.

Some ways to increase stimulation for kids who are craving stimulation:

  • Provide outdoor play that provides ‘big’ sensations such as swinging fast on the swings or going up and down on a teeter totter.
  • Brush the skin with a soft brush.
  • Provide heavy objects to move around; cans, food containers filled with rice or beans, bags to fill and carry.
  • Engage in physical play at least every 90 minutes; tug of war with a blanket, pulling other children in a wagon, etc.
  • Find a tight fitting shirt to wear under other clothes, my daughter likes to wear a thermal undershirt (texture) that is two sizes too small (pressure).

Book Recommendations: Sensational Kids, Building Bridges, The Out of Sync Child

Dietary Intervention and the Gut-Brain Connection

The second simple amazing discovery that we made was that we could just remove a couple foods from my little one’s diet and many of her symptoms lessened or disappeared! Trying an elimination diet of any kind is overwhelming, but the response can be dramatic. In our child we saw a huge difference in eye contact, and the ability to learn in 48 hours, that was enough to keep me excited and motivated to continue her on the diet that works for her. You can read more about how the food can affect people with autism, ADD, allergies, and other chronic conditions in my Gut-Brain Connection post.

Some elimination diets that can be tried:

  • Feingold program- removes artificial additives and salicylates
  • Gluten free- Eliminates gluten, the protein found in wheat and other grains.
  • Casein free- Eliminates milk protein, found in any form of milk other than ghee.
  • GFCF- Gluten and Casein free diet eliminates both these allergens. These molecules appear to have opiate-like affects in some individuals.
  • SCD/GAPS- Eliminates all grains, starches, and refined sugars to promote gut healing.

Book Recommendations: Special Needs Kids Eat Right, Gut and Psychology Syndrome, Breaking the Vicious Cycle

Focusing on Simply Enjoying the Child

In our focus to be the best parents we can be, sometimes we get too caught up in everything we feel like we should be doing for and teaching our child that we forget how important it is to simply show them how wonderful they are. Our children’s emotional well beings depend that they are constantly reassured that they are loved and accepted.

  • My last tip is to spend even just 15 minutes a day with your special needs child, joining in doing what they like to do, not trying to teach or change them one bit for that period of time. Give them your undivided attention and follow their lead and watch them blossom and connect in ways that haven’t been seen before.

Book Recommendations: Sonrise: The Miracle Continues

About the author:

Cara lives with her family in Montana where she stays home with her two young children ages 2 and 4. She started Grain Free Meal Plans earlier this year, as a way to assist other families who want to try a grain and sugar free diet. She also writes about natural health, traditional foods, and special needs at Health, Home, and Happiness.

Thank you, Cara! It was great to have you here at Simple Kids today. Readers, I’m wondering what you think about simple holistic helps for the special needs child? What are your experiences?

About Kara

Kara Fleck is the editor of Simple Kids. She is a small town mama, writer, knitter, bookworm, and hooligan. Kara lives in Indiana with her husband Christopher and their four children Jillian, Max, Lucy, and Amelia. You can find more of her writing at

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  1. Wow! Thank you so much for this post! My son (almost 3) is in the process to get evaluated for Autism, and I’m strongly suspecting that he’ll be placed somewhere on the spectrum, but the eval isn’t until April. He was determined to be developmentally delayed and having sensory stimulation sensitivities (needing physical, sensitive to sound), and I’ve been overwhelmed by wanting to help him now but not knowing what to do. I have celiac, and have thought about placing him on my GF diet, but have been concerned about my parents (who watch him on the days that I work) would be resistant/wouldn’t support it, but think I’ll go ahead. I haven’t told them about my concerns or the eval, so will have to make up something for a reason, but reading this, and your Gut-Brain Connection post has really motivated me.

    Thank you so much!!

  2. Thank you for this post! I have been thinking about starting a GAPS diet with my daughter (ADHD, Tourrette’s and possibly an ASD) and the thought of taking out all grains is daunting. Now that I know Cara’s resource is there, I’m more inclined to get started!
    Jessica´s latest post: – “man-crafts” –

    • It is daunting! I’m glad you think my meal plans would be helpful, and I wish you the best of health for your family!

  3. Thank you so much for posting this:) My precious 4 year old daughter, Avery Jane has cerebral palsy, a seizure disorder & sensory processing disorder. She is a sensory craver…she seeks out physical & oral input, vestibular input & proprioceptive input. Having a child with these challenges has taught me so much about holistic health. I have seen first hand how treating & respecting her whole self has improved every issue we were dealing with. Before her diagnosis, I thought she was quirky…I wasn’t putting all the puzzle pieces together & looking at the whole picture…I was just trying to deal with a bunch of puzzle pieces. Once we started helping her satisfy her deep need for extra sensory input, she became such a peaceful child! I could just go on & on, but I will end by saying I learned the importance of a holistic approach for my whole family from our special special needs child:)

  4. My little ones do not have any special needs but many of these things we’ve incorporated into our lives because it makes days smoother. Especially the no electronic games, providing things to move around etc.
    We also try to eliminate processed foods and things with additives in them.

    The result? The littles are happier and less agitated!
    Jenn @ Beautiful Calling´s latest post: The Best Years of My Life

    • That is perfect! My typically developing son has benefited from this lifestyle as well, and I personally think it’s a nice way to live too!

  5. This helps me a lot – I’ve been not dealing well with my daughter’s sensory issues – aka. totally ignoring them – and dealing with her behaviors. I realize that I just need to look at her as a whole person, and try to help her. (and enjoy her – good point!) We’re actually starting OT tomorrow and brushing. I think I can . . . I think I can . . .

    I think I will look at your other posts about diet and consider doing that, too.


    • Fantastic Melissa,
      I started out addressing the behaviors too, I think that’s a common trap to fall in. I wish you the best as you start OT! 🙂

    • Melissa – I just want to encourage you! My son has MAJOR sensory-seeking (and also sensory defensive) issues and my (and hubby\’s) stress level was off the chart. It was affecting EVERY part of our daily life. It was exhausting. After a few weeks of OT, my son was like a new kid. Three months in and he\’s a completely different kid (in a good way!) than he was 3 months ago. Our stress levels are reduced, everyone is sleeping more and my precious son is more comfortable in his own skin, which reduces the behavior issues. We have a phenomenal OT who has literally changed our life and our family and helped us to understand the behavior issues were a result of a physiological NEED. 🙂 (The book, The Out of Sync Child is a PHENOMENAL book on sensory issues!) OH – We also had our son allergy tested and met with a nutritionist. One of things affecting our son\’s behavior was MILK. He\’s truly allergic to it, but it also was acting on his little brain and making sensory issues even worse. Let me know if you\’d like more info on our experience. 🙂 Good luck on your journey! 🙂
      ThankfulMomma´s latest post: Crashing- grieving and perfection

  6. I agree wholeheartedly with this post. However, implementing things are often not as easy as the theory reads. Kids are complicated and it is sometimes hard to figure the sensory stuff out. Pediatric OTs have been a great resource to my family on how to identify and the mediate sensory needs. A Naturopath has been a great resource for dietary needs.

    • That’s a great point, Heather. This post was comprised of 4 years of learning, trying, reading, and consulting with professionals- you’re absolutely right that it’s not easy at all and getting outside help is a great!

      I find that researching on my own and reading on my own has helped me to better use professional help; we went in to a Naturopath already with a pretty good idea with what alternative methods would help so the appointment wasn’t overwhelming, and we were able to find an OT that deals with sensory issues (some OTs don’t even address them!)

  7. This is a great post. While I don’t have any children diagnosed as special needs, I do have one who clearly needs me to be sensitive to her sensory needs. I’ve got one book about it (I think it’s called “Raising a Sensory Smart Child” or something like that.) I just think it’s so great that this information is out there now and that we are coming to some sort of mainstream recognition of these differences and how to address them in a nurturing way.
    Two Chicks and a Hen´s latest post: Apparently I am a Stage 2-3 Immigrant- and a Happy Breakfast for this Midwestern Girl

  8. Wow! Thank you for this lovely post. I am not a mother yet, but work with young children and often see special needs emerging. I will be referring parents to this article for loving, attentive and accepting ways to meet a child’s needs.
    Maggie´s latest post: My Favorite Frugal- Nourishing- Grain-Free- Comforting- Stretchable- Versatile Dinner Recipe

    • Thanks Maggie! I think sensory issues are fairly common even in typically developing kids, and they are a relatively simple fix!


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