by Ellen Doman
The seasons are changing and with that change comes increased congestion for children around the world. Whether you are moving from fall into winter or winter into spring, the changing temperatures, moisture levels, and changes in the trees and other plants outside can produce allergic responses in children and adults. So while these changing seasons can often bring increased opportunities to get outside with all of those benefits to breathing, regulating the nervous system and disrupting repetitive behaviors, there is the real issue of increased congestion.
So what’s the big deal with congestion? My grandchild’s pediatrician told us that we should expect my grandchild to be sick 90% of the time if she attended a preschool or day care. The doctor went on to say that this was nothing to be concerned about because most of the illnesses were just colds and congestion. What that really meant is that my grandchild would be experiencing distorted auditory information 90% of the time. That’s a big deal.
Whether children attend preschool, playgroups, grade school or go to “kid gyms” the increased exposure to illness combined with seasonal allergy triggers create a perfect setting for long periods of congestion. If congestion is so common among children in the general population, why are we so worried about it? Why should you be concerned? The short answer to that is that it impacts negatively on the quality of sound that is being transmitted to the brain.
Let’s look at how this might impact on a child with Down syndrome or any other syndrome that impacts negatively on the structure of the sinuses and ear canals. With many children, the ear canals tend to be small. By the way, many neurotypical children have small ear canals as well. These narrow canals make it hard for physicians to see or address typical issues such as ear wax that reduces the ear drum’s ability to move as well as making it difficult to see ear infections. Nasal and sinus congestion backs up into the middle ear causing the eardrum to lose much of its movement which then results in poor communication of accurate sound signals. Your child is not hearing with clarity. What they hear can be muffled and difficult to understand.
Obviously receiving poor quality sound impacts negatively on auditory processing, auditory attention and the development speech and good articulation. It also results in the child not necessarily responding when spoken to, being slow to imitate sounds, and appearing to tune out to what is going on around them. There’s more bad news in that nasal congestion produces mouth breathing which results in the child leaving their mouth open for long periods of time. This allows the jaw to stay in a relaxed position and can lead to the tongue sliding forward. So we have a cascading impact triggered by congestion.
Now let’s consider the impact on children with sensory issues. Have you ever had a cold and had that feeling of being detached from what is going on around you? Your head hurts. You’re tired because the congestion disrupts your sleep and you feel spacey because your hearing is distorted and even your sense of balance is impacted. You can’t taste your food and don’t even feel like eating. If this is how you feel with a cold, imagine the impact of congestion on your child with sensory issues.
For children who already may spend a great deal of time not processing auditory input or not processing it accurately, congestion adds another layer of distortion and isolation. We spend a lot of time doing program pieces that require and invite children to attend well to auditory input, to language, frequent congestion can result in even less attention to auditory input and a resulting increase in DSA’s (stimming behaviors).
So what can we do about this? Our best bet is typically to improve or maintain an extremely healthy diet rich in deeply-colored and diverse organic vegetables and healthy proteins. We will talk about nutrition and diets as a regular part of our monthly newsletters in the future. For now, let’s just simply state that we want to avoid mucous-causing foods during any period when the weather or exposure to other people may increase the risk of congestion. Typical mucous-causing foods include dairy, eggs, pasta, cereals, bananas, potatoes, corn, soy products and to a lesser degree, cabbage, corn and red meat. Many of these foods are not good for a variety of other reasons as well.
In future articles we will write about how to get your child to eat “the good stuff” and we encourage and invite you to share recipes and ideas on our Facebook page. Let’s help each other discover great ways to get our children to eat well. I’ll give a little shout out here to one of our new families in Australia who grow all their own organic foods for themselves and their little girl. Evie is a very lucky girl to have such incredible food resources. Unfortunately, we don’t all have a home that would easily allow us to grow all of our own food but we can share resources from around the world to give our children and ourselves the best nutrition and health possible.