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Why Keeping Hydrated Isn’t Always Easy with Autism

Hydration is an essential component for everyone’s health, yet many people struggle to make sure they take in enough fluids through the day. For those with autism, staying hydrated can be an even greater challenge. 

Autism is a neurological disorder that can affect an individual’s communication, social interaction, and behavior, to varying degrees. Many people with autism have difficulty with sensory processing, and this can sometimes include their sense of thirst. Not being signaled by the feeling of thirst can make it trickier for individuals with autism to stay hydrated, even when they intellectually know it’s important.

Hydration is crucial for general health and cognition. Staying hydrated is one of the simplest and most important things you can do for your health. When you are properly hydrated, your brain functions better, your energy levels are higher, and your body can function at its best. This is especially important for individuals with autism, who may already experience challenges with cognition and energy levels.

Lack of thirst

People with autism may experience hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to different sensory stimuli, including thirst. Hypersensitivity to thirst can make it difficult for an individual with autism to tolerate the sensation of being thirsty. Conversely, hyposensitivity to thirst can make it difficult for an individual to recognize the sensation of thirst, removing the instinctual motivation to hydrate.

In addition, some people with autism experience difficulties with communication, such as trouble expressing their needs or desires, including when they are thirsty. Others may have difficulty understanding social cues, such as when it is appropriate to ask for a drink of water. These challenges can make it tricky for caregivers and family members to know when someone with autism is thirsty, starting to dehydrate, or otherwise wants a drink of water, but is unable to express it.

Some individuals with autism may also have behavioral challenges that make it difficult to drink water. For example, some autistic people have aversions to certain textures or flavors, one of which could be plain water. Others may be resistant to trying new things or may engage in repetitive behaviors that interfere with drinking water. For many autistic people, generally keeping up with good self-care routines, such as staying well-hydrated, can be difficult as they often feel too mentally tired to maintain any consistently proactive habits. 

Tips to help individuals with autism stay hydrated

  • Offer water frequently throughout the day. Offer water to individuals with autism frequently throughout the day, even if they do not express thirst. Even smaller sips throughout the day can still help prevent dehydration and ensure that they are getting enough fluids.
  • Use visual cues. Using visual cues, such as pictures or a water bottle with lines indicating how much water to drink, can really help autistic people to stay in touch with when they need to drink water, and how much.
  • Experiment with different textures and flavors. If the individual in question seems to dislike the plainness of water, try experimenting with different textures and flavors of water to find one that they like, such as cherry-infused water. Some may prefer carbonated water or flavored water over plain water – whatever works to help get their hydration up in a comfortable way.
  • Incorporate water into daily routines. People with autism typically dislike change but are big fans of routine, so working towards incorporating drinking water into daily routines can help to keep them on track. Try introducing hydration at specific times of the day, such as after waking up or before and after meals. 
  • Use a straw or water bottle. Autistic people are often quite particular about the sensory inputs they like or loathe. Using a straw or a water bottle they pick out for themselves may make it easier for them to drink more water. Something as simple as the way the water bottle opens can deter an autistic person from using it more frequently, so check in with them to see what they like and take them water bottle shopping!

It is crucial to remember that everyone is different, and what works for one individual with autism may not work for another. It is essential to work with healthcare professionals and caregivers to develop an individualized plan for staying hydrated.

Final thoughts

Autism comes with a range of challenges as well as gifts, and if one of the challenges is maintaining sufficient hydration, then it’s an important issue that must be addressed. The strategies outlined above can make a real difference in making the task easier to tackle and more comfortable for everyone. 

In addition to these strategies, it’s important to seek the guidance of healthcare professionals and caregivers to help develop an individualized health plan that takes into account the unique needs and challenges of the person being cared for. 

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