Parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may notice struggles with daily activities. These might involve the ability to focus, plan ahead, use memory, and transition between ideas and information. Together, these are called executive functions. Children, like adults, need a balance of these functions to thrive.
Traditional western treatment often focuses on behavioral modification training and medications for ASD. While these can be effective, they can also be costly and time-consuming.
The Chanwuyi Lifestyle Medicine program, developed by Dr. Suiyin Agnes Chan, offers an overall wellness approach. It’s based on Chinese medicine concepts of balance and energy flow.
The recommendations in this program are straightforward and accessible. Multiple studies have shown their effectiveness for children struggling with ASD (Chan et al., 2014; Chan & Sze, 2020). The program can provide improvements ranging from better behaviors to increased focus.
Chanwuyi Lifestyle Medicine focuses on key areas that impact wellness, including:
● Physical activity
● Stress management
● Psychological well-being
Here’s a brief look at each area, along with links to helpful resources to learn more.
Multiple studies have shown that dietary changes recommended in the program have helped with several of these areas of mental functioning. Specifically, research shows that children who followed the dietary changes (for the most part) were able to think more clearly, to decrease inappropriate behaviors, and to better plan ahead (Chan et al., 2012).
Certain foods can improve body and brain functions. The following categories of foods are encouraged:
Potentially Negative Foods
Other foods can interfere with functioning. The following types of foods should be gradually decreased or eliminated:
● Green onion
● Spicy foods
● Added sugars
● Processed foods
It’s recommended that children exercise up to 60 minutes per day. A particularly helpful type of movement and relaxation method is called Nei Yang Gong. It includes specific movements, such as standing tranquilly, relaxing shoulders, passive breathing, and self massage of the top of the nose.
In two studies, children learned the Nei Yang Gong techniques with a teacher, and continued practicing it between 5 and 45 minutes at home, around 4 to 6 days per week. Children who participated were found to have improved self-control behaviors, as well as enhanced brain activity in areas of self-control and improved memory (Chan et al., 2013, Chan et al., 2015).
The Shaolin Dan Tian Breathing method can also help with relaxation and focus (Chan et al., 2011). Children who practiced this technique also experienced better moods. This technique involves relaxing, while noticing the natural breathing process. This breathing method helps with Chi, a chinese concept of energy within the body.