Seasonal Allergies and Autism

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The Problem with Allergy Season

If you have seasonal allergies, you know how miserable the symptoms can make you feel. Sneezing, itchy nose and throat, watery or runny eyes and nose – those are just some outward signs of seasonal allergies. In addition, you might feel drained or spacey, which could lead to general irritability. If those little pollen spores can wreak such chaos on your system, imagine what they might do to your autistic child who may have a more sensitive constitution.

Sudden Regression

Has your child suddenly started to exhibit again some of the traits that had seemed to fade over the past months? Sometimes a reaction to seasonal allergens can bring about what is perceived as regression in autistic individuals. Intense discomfort, increased difficulty focusing, or frustration at not being able to stop irritating physical sensations can understandably cause an individual to communicate less with the outside world and can be so upsetting as to bring on emotional outbursts.

It is common for individuals on the autism spectrum to spend a good deal of their time focused internally. Seasonal allergies can make this tendency much more pronounced. Attention difficulties can increase. Consider that something like an itchy throat can be more than merely annoying or uncomfortable. It can present something that your child has little or no control over, which can be upsetting. For someone who is more sensitive to physical sensation than average, a simple itch can be near torture. These are valid reasons to have attention further diverted away from the mundane world.

Some allergy sufferers may resort to ‘sensory seeking’ behavior. This might look like hyperactivity, spinning, jumping, running back and forth, or other ‘stims’ (self-stimulating behavior). Such actions are generally soothing, so it stands to reason that with the onslaught of irritating environmental factors, the stims often increase as well.

What to Do

You may want to consider an allergy medication for your child at least during the worst part of allergy season. There are any number of antihistamine or steroid medications available by prescription or over the counter. Consult your doctor to choose the best option for your child. Antihistamines can cause drowsiness, so try giving them at night. They may help your child get a more restful sleep, and will allow him to function better during daytime activities.

Keep an eye on the pollen counts, and when they are high, keep your child indoors with the windows closed. Air conditioning can be a huge help as well, but make sure to keep those filters clean! When you have to go outdoors, try to avoid grassy, flowery, wooded or damp areas (the last in case your child is allergic to mold). Early mornings tend to have higher pollen levels, so when possible, adjust your schedule accordingly. An evaluation by an allergist can tell you what allergens you should specifically watch out for. Keeping the hands and face clean, especially after being outdoors, can provide relief too. Finally a healthy diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables can provide a natural boost to immune system functioning.