Get in the Game! Sports and Autism

Athletic womanSports are a huge part of many kids’ lives.  Not only is it a social gathering for adolescents to meet friends and learn to be part of a team, it also encourages healthy active lifestyles, and as we know exercise is important for everyone – disability or not. Some parents might think that having a child with autism means playing sports may never be a reality for their child. However, sports can be just as beneficial, if not more, for children with autism.

While many team sports such as basketball or soccer may be a little bit more challenging to grasp due to gross motor coordination, sensory problems or communication issues, individual sports may be the perfect fit. Individual sports like swimming, track and field and karate provide structure and team camaraderie while at the same time being very individualized. This perfect mixture could be very beneficial in allowing the child to fully participate in the activity at their own level while not having the social anxiety that can be brought on from other involved team sports. In a basketball game there has to be that thought process of knowing when the ball is going to be passed to you or who to throw to next.  A sport like swimming permits the child to focus in on one skill only helping to keep their attention and reducing that social anxiety that can be brought on in other team sports.

This team aspect, while helping them develop their motor skills, will also help them develop their social skills too by providing the feeling of being a valued member of a group and increasing self-confidence.  Individualized sports also eliminate the fear that your child will be picked last for the team or “ride the bench” the whole game, creating a sense of failure and rejection in their heads and turning them away from the sport completely. While a child may come in last in a track race, putting the focus on just finishing the race and having their teammates cheer them on to the finish line can be a great self-esteem booster.

Another great aspect of individual sports is the ability to continue participating throughout one’s lifespan. Individuals with disabilities have a higher prevalence for obesity and one large contributor to that can be a sedentary lifestyle (although other factors are also influential). Encouraging fitness at a younger age will help to find fun inclusive ways to exercise that can be carried on into their adult years too.

The Arc’s programs such as HealthMeet and the Autism NOW Center are great places to turn to for valuable information and resources on fitness and healthy living for individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities. Autism NOW’s website contains printable handouts with dietary recommendations and tips that promote healthy eating habits as well as a Health Promotion Guide  containing ideas and suggestions for developing and sustaining a healthy, active lifestyle for individuals with autism.

Working Toward Healthier Lives for People with I/DD

HealthMeetThe Arc of United States recently launched its new HealthMeet® project, funded through a 3-year, $1 million cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). ACHIEVA (The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh) has joined four other chapters of The Arc nationwide, to pilot local health care screenings, provide assistance with health care navigation and offer health promotion activities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).

“We are extremely excited to be chosen to partner with The Arc of the United States, The Arc of Massachusetts, The Arc of New Jersey, The Arc of North Carolina and The Arc of San Francisco to be part of this project and provide free health screenings across our region,” says Nancy Murray, President, The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh.  “These screenings will allow us to provide health screenings, collect data on the health of people with I/DD and provide training and information on healthy lifestyles.”

Screenings began in March. “ACHIEVA has gotten off to a great start by screening our first 46 individuals and we have collected valuable health data during the screenings,” says HealthMeet screening coordinator Melissa Allen. “We are providing wellness informational brochures and encouraging healthy lifestyles by giving participants a gift bag at the end of their screening.”

In addition, ACHIEVA worked with Eruption Athletics, a personal training program for men and women with disabilities, and they are joining ACHIEVA’s HealthMeet events to offer fun fitness activities and exercise guidance to those that participate.  Eruption Athletics is dedicated to providing athletic trainer-certified programs to develop strength, flexibility and wellness with a focus on men and women with disabilities. This was a unique way for ACHIEVA to partner with a business in their community to enhance the HealthMeet event and put a fun and interactive spin on the benefits of adopting a healthy lifestyle for their participants.

ACHIEVA supports the HealthMeet effort with a bi-monthly electronic newsletter that provides health and wellness information and information about access to healthcare. For more information about HealthMeet you can visit www.thearc.org/healthmeet. If you want to receive ACHIEVA’s HealthMeet electronic newsletter please contact Melissa Allen at mallen@achieva.info.

March is National Nutrition Month

By Kerry Mauger, The Arc’s HealthMeet Team

HealthMeetMarch is National Developmental Disabilities Awareness month and it is also National Nutrition Month®. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics created an annual campaign to help educate and inform people all over the US about the importance of creating healthy eating habits, making more informed food choices and increasing physical activity. This is especially important for individuals living with an intellectual or developmental disability. It’s been shown that individuals with a disability have a higher prevalence for obesity, which can lead to diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and other preventable health issues.

Learning more about nutrition and what types of foods to eat can make a huge impact in your overall health. By teaching and using the MyPlate methodology, individuals can get a visual perspective of the types of foods and portions that they should be consuming daily. To help show different portion sizes that are appropriate for certain foods you can compare them to household items that the individual will be able to relate to.  For example -knowing that a 3-4oz serving of chicken should be about the size of a deck of cards or half a cup of pasta is the size of a baseball will help to put portion sizes into perspective for future meals.

Small changes to the foods you consume can also make a significant imprint in your health over time – switching to skim milk from 2%, replacing sour cream with Greek yogurt, eating whole grain bread instead of white bread and controlling sodium intake are all very simple steps to take to making healthier eating habits. Many resources are available through The Arc’s HealthMeet project and their webinars that feature presentations by nutritionists, dieticians, nurses and more to help individuals to be more educated about the foods they chose, portion sizes and ways to improve fitness levels to help reduce obesity and many of its related preventable illnesses.

The Arc joins Million Hearts™ to Help Save Lives from Heart Attacks and Strokes

Heart attacks and strokes are the 1st and 4th leading causes of death in the United States each year.  Everyday 2,200 people die from cardiovascular disease in America.  In addition heart disease and stroke are also among the leading causes of disability in our country, with more than 3 million people reporting serious illness or a decrease in the quality of life afterwards.

Many people may not even be aware that they are at a high risk for a heart attack or stroke.  The Arc has taken the pledge to help increase awareness of cardiovascular disease by partnering up with Million Hearts.  Million Hearts was created in attempt to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes over the next five years.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are co-leading this initiative, which hopes to raise awareness by educating people on the associated risks of heart attacks and strokes, encouraging exercise, and maintaining a healthy diet to reduce cholesterol and sodium intake. By learning the “ABCs” of preventing heart disease and stroke (Aspirin Therapy, Blood pressure control, Cholesterol management and Smoking cessation) we can empower individuals to make healthier choices to reduce these occurrences. Million Hearts is bringing together a variety of public and private sectors to help spread their educational campaign across the country and find innovative ways to use technology and information sharing to promote these efforts.

Individuals with an intellectual or developmental disability are at an even higher risk than the rest of the population for heart attacks and stroke.  It is shown that individuals with I/DD are less likely to maintain routine check-ups, receive the medical attention or medicines they need to sustain their health or have enough health knowledge to be aware of their own health disparities to make healthier choices. The Arc’s HealthMeet project is helping to educate and promote healthy behaviors, by providing free health assessments, educational webinars, trainings, and activities to increase fitness in hopes to create a change in individual’s lifestyles leading to fewer instances of heart attacks and strokes.  Log on to The Arc’s HealthMeet page on our website, www.thearc.org, to learn more about the project and access health resources that can help you put your heart’s health into your own hands.

Get the Facts on Women with I/DD and Cervical and Breast Cancer Screening

Caregivers Report Many Barriers to Life Saving Screenings

A recent study in the journal Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities titled, Family Caregivers’ Perspectives on Barriers and Facilitators of Cervical and Breast Cancer Screening for Women with Intellectual Disability found  that family caregivers often did not realize the importance of regular cervical and breast cancer screenings for women with I/DD. These lifesaving screenings are important for ALL women, and this study clearly shows that we need to do more to increase awareness and reduce barriers to breast and cervical cancer screening for women with disabilities.

Through the Arc’s HealthMeet® project, we will survey women with I/DD about their frequency of breast and cervical screening as part of the larger health assessments that will be conducted in 2013 in 5 states across the country.  The data collected during the health assessments will further inform the disability and health care field about women’s access to the these critical screenings.  We must do better to protect the health and lives of women with I/DD.

For more information about breast and cervical cancer in women with disabilities, visit the CDC’s National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities page for women with disabilities.

What Do You Think About Autism NOW?

Have you ever visited www.autismnow.org? We’d like to know what you think. Did you find what you were looking for? Do you have any suggestions for how we might improve? Take our short survey to help us ensure that this website is serving you well.

If you’re not familiar with autismnow.org, we highly recommend you take a look. Autism NOW: The National Autism Resource and Information Center is a project of The Arc funded, in part, by a grant from the Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. It is designed to be a dynamic, interactive and central point of quality resources and information for people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and other developmental disabilities as well as their families and others. In addition to autismnow.org, this project has created events, online education opportunities and a vibrant online social community dedicated to collecting and sharing quality information, vetted by experts and easily accessible. If you are an individual who identifies as being on the Autism spectrum or are just interested in getting more information about ASD, we invite you to explore and share the site and then take the survey if you have some feedback you’d like to give.

The Arc of Madison County eRecycling Program

By Joyce Rinaldi, The Arc of Madison County

While The Arc of Madison County has worked hard to help individuals obtain employment in businesses throughout our community, we have also developed businesses to create new work opportunities. Our most significant success has been with our recycle and an on-site paper shredding businesses. With these programs, we have employed over 100 individuals with disabilities as sorters, material handlers, and on-site shredding personnel.

With our newest endeavor, we are excited to partner with The Arc’s eXplore eRecycling Initiative, funded by the Walmart Foundation, to place more individuals with disabilities to work! With this grant, we will be recycling and shredding metal products, circuit boards, cell phones and computer hard drives. By working with community stakeholders (individuals, local businesses, etc.) to recycle electronic equipment, it allows us to empower the individuals we serve and conserve natural resources, protect public health and the environment.

Our e-recycling employees work extensively in the community, engaging one-on-one with our customers. This structure has provided a maximum benefit to both employees and customers. We have received only the most enthusiastic feedback from our customers to this end and have enjoyed seeing the relationships they have been able to establish. It is also important to note that all employees associated with this particular initiative earn at least minimum wage, which further facilitates independence.

While taking a community leader on a tour of our facility last week, I noticed excitement was in the air. As we came upon several recycle workers, they could not contain themselves. They just had to show this person the new additions to our recycling program, our truck and new hard drive destruction equipment.  They explained how we received a grant from The Arc of the United States; how we would be recycling (and destroying) new items like hard drives and cell phones; and how other people “like me” will get to work. I did not have to say anything as the workers sold the program. It is exciting to see the “ownership” in the program. It also reminded me that their commitment is what has made our recycle and shredding services successful. Commitment to their job and to our community, in the services we provide.

Get the Facts on Diabetes and People with I/DD

Join The Arc’s Experts to Learn More on December 5

November is National Diabetes Month. The American Diabetes Association estimates that nearly 26 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes and another 79 million Americans have pre-diabetes and are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Clearly, this is a major public health issue.  You may be wondering – how many people with I/DD have diabetes?  The answer is we aren’t sure, but we do know that diabetes is a common secondary condition affecting people with I/DD. One study found that adults with cognitive limitations had a significantly higher prevalence of diabetes than did adults with no disability (19.4% vs. 3.8%, respectively).  Major risk factors for diabetes include being overweight and lack of physical activity—factors we know disproportionality impact people with I/DD.

Diabetes, like many other chronic health conditions, can be treated or prevented with appropriate health education and interventions but people with I/DD often don’t have access to these services. This is a problem that HealthMeet™ is aiming to solve!

The main goal of The Arc’s HealthMeet™ project is to conduct health assessments, provide linkages and referrals to services and customized health navigation, and spread health education to people with ID.

The Arc of New Jersey, a HealthMeet™ pilot site, has produced a publication, “Prevent, Understand, and Live with Diabetes: A Guide for People with Developmental Disabilities” as part of their Diabetes Awareness and Education Project. This guide, which is available in English and Spanish, educates individuals with I/DD and their caregivers about important steps to take to help prevent and control diabetes, including diet changes, improved exercise habits, and regular monitoring by a health care professional.

Through HealthMeet™, we will continue to share resources like this guide on our website to help people with I/DD and their support system learn more about the serious, yet potentially preventable, health issues that affect them. In doing so, we will reduce health disparities, increase longevity and improve the quality of life for people with I/DD.

Please join us for a HealthMeet Webinar:  Prevent, Understand, and Live with Diabetes on Monday, December 5th,  2:00pm- 3:00pm EST led by Nurse Practitioner, Leone Murphy, from The Arc of New Jersey, who will present information on The Arc of New Jersey’s diabetes project.

Register here for Prevent, Understand, and Live with Diabetes.

Get Healthy with HealthMeet™

HealthMeet™, a project of The Arc funded through a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, works to reduce health disparities and increase the longevity and quality of life for people with intellectual disabilities. To accomplish this, we are planning free community-based health screenings and referrals for people with intellectual disabilities along with training and education for individuals, families, professionals, medical providers and other caregivers to raise public awareness of the health issues that impact people with ID across the country.

Check out our new web page with information about the program, resources and news about possible Healthmeet™ activities in your community. In the meantime, we invite you to join us for an online educational series tackling specific topics related to health promotion among people with intellectual disabilities. There will be a variety of Webinars over the coming months, beginning with the sessions below. Bookmark our page and check back often for new sessions as they are developed.

Weight Loss for Individuals with Disabilities

Monday, November 19th

 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. EST

Expert guest speakers Richard and Muriel Saunders from the University of Kansas discuss effective weight loss plans in overweight adults with disabilities.  This webinar will go into detail about methods, results and lessons learned in creating an effective weight loss program.  These research-based programs have been proven to have great success in helping people with disabilities to keep the weight off and decrease obesity-prone health disparities.  We will discuss barriers to eating healthy and strategies to increase consciousness of making healthier long-term eating decisions and how to track that progress.  Join us to hear more about this important topic.

UIC HealthMatters™ Curricula

Tuesday, November 27

2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m. EST

The HealthMatters™ Program from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) offers various health-related trainings and curricula to help self-advocates, caregivers, families, and health care providers promote health, prevent disease, and foster community engagement of people with disabilities. Different programs are tailored for various audiences including people with disabilities, caregivers, families, and health care providers. We welcome Beth Marks, RN, PhD and Jasmina Sisirak, PhD, MPH from the Department of Disability and Human Development at UIC to share information regarding the various trainings that are associated with HealthMatters™ Program. One of the trainings will be utilized by The Arc’s five HealthMeet™ pilot sites to develop and implement a health promotion program in their communities. Please join us to find out more about these exciting trainings and programs and how they can be helpful in your community.

Get the Facts on Breast Cancer and People with I/DD

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

People with intellectual disabilities (ID) tend to be less healthy than the general population and are at increased risk for many preventable and treatable conditions, including breast cancer.

According to the CDC, women who have disabilities are significantly less likely to have been screened for breast cancer in accordance with the recommended guidelines, thus placing them at a greater risk of breast cancer. Aside from non-melanoma skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women in the United States. It is also one of the leading causes of cancer death among women of all races and Hispanic origin populations. Men can get breast cancer too, though they make up less than 1% of all cases of breast cancer.

Women with intellectual disabilities experience even greater barriers—both physical and attitudinal— that prevent them from getting the screening and preventive care they need. Here at The Arc of the United States, we are working hard to reduce health disparities and increase the longevity and quality of life for people with intellectual disabilities through our new HealthMeet™ program.

HealthMeet™ has identified some of the key barriers to care for people with ID including:

  • Lack of accessible information about healthy habits, or not enough help in navigating of health care systems and insurance plans
  • The cost of attending regular medical checkups and following up with a health provider on any risks identified during a checkup
  • Lack of health plan benefits and other insurance-related obstacles to high-quality care and choosing the right provider
  • Lack of communication training for health professionals, making interactions with people with ID difficult
  • Too much emphasis on someone’s disability in their health care, leading health professionals to skip routine screenings for common diseases or preventable health issues
  • Discrimination and stigma associated with disability

HealthMeet™ can serve as a catalyst to create powerful, innovative cascade solutions that will reduce health disparities for people with ID that ultimately result in their increased longevity and improved quality of life; and which will raise the public, health professional, and community consciousness of this great need.

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