Four children playing on a carpet (photo by iStock)
Ohio Life | Live Well Ohio

Live Well March/April 2024

How to teach your children kindness to the neurodiverse. Plus, find out what nutrients might be missing from your diet. 

Beyond Labels
Teaching your child about neurodiversity encourages acceptance and educates them about the different ways humans experience the world. 

He winces at a crackling noise from the classroom speaker, clapping his hands over his ears. She always takes laps during math. We’re all different, and teaching children about neurodiversity helps them understand that we don’t all relate to the world in the same way.

“The idea of neurodiversity is to say, ‘We are all humans, and there is space for all of us,’ ” explains Dr. Elizabeth Diekroger, who specializes in developmental-behavioral pediatrics at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland.

Often, the first place a child encounters neurodiversity is among their peers at school, so Diekroger shares advice for how parents can encourage their kids to be inclusive. 

Model Acceptance. “The most important thing for parents to do is lead by example,” Diekroger says. “If you are telling your child to be kind and you are not doing the same when you talk to your own friends, they pick up on that.”

Set the Tone. “Be careful with your tone when you say, ‘different,’ ” Diekroger says. Don’t be afraid to be open either. “If you shy away from talking about it, even if you are not labeling, you make a difference seem like a problem or secret you can’t talk about.” 

Be Curious, Not Critical. If your child remarks on another’s behavior, ask a question like “I wonder why he reacted that way?” Then steer your child into sharing their perspective. 

Don’t Give Up. If your child invites a neurodiverse friend to play and doesn’t get the expected reaction, advise them to try again, Diekroger encourages. “Explain, ‘Maybe there will be days when he is interested in playing and days when he is not, and that’s okay,’ ” she says. 


Cheese, eggs, fish, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, artichoke, squash, avocado, meat and other produce (photo by iStock)
Fuel Better
If you’re missing out on these six essential nutrients, fill your plate with readily available foods and skip the supplements.

Looking for a way to improve sleep, boost immunity and sharpen your focus? There’s a supplement for that, but a colorful, balanced plate works harder for your health, and you don’t have to stock up on fancy foods that you’d never find in regular grocery store aisles.

“A majority of our health issues would be significantly improved with better nutrition,” says Margaret Tonkovich, a certified nurse practitioner at OhioHealth Physician Group in Athens. “A lot of people want to take a pill or try various herbal products, but if we eat right, we can get the vitamins and nutrients we need that way.”

Here are six essentials your diet is likely lacking.

Calcium: Swap out soda for milk to help regulate blood pressure and maintain bone health. Adults should aim for three daily servings and children up to four. After all, bone growth tapers off around age 40 Tonkovich says. Not into dairy? Reach for almonds, salmon, canned sardines, seeds, beans, lentils, leafy greens and tofu. Tonkovich doesn’t discourage supplements, but she warns that they can create deposits in coronary arteries. 

Folate: Also known as vitamin B9, folate helps form the RNA and DNA in cells. It’s most important for pregnant women, who need it to prevent neural tube birth defects in the brain and spine. Folic acid is added to many food products like cereals, and naturally available in leafy greens, beans, whole grains and eggs. 

Iron: Low iron levels can often be overlooked when symptoms like fatigue and headache arise, but there are many reasons why people develop anemia, from blood loss to nutrient-absorption issues, Tonkovich explains. “Focus on high-iron foods like lean meat, nuts, eggs and green leafy vegetables,” she advises. “Be sure to couple those with foods containing vitamin C to increase absorption.” 

Magnesium: Tonkovich often fields complaints of muscle cramps, and low magnesium levels are often responsible. “Magnesium can also help with soreness. It helps regulate blood sugar and may improve sleep,” she says, pointing to food sources such as nuts, spinach, avocado, black beans, bananas, grains and seeds. 

Vitamin B12: Fatigue, memory troubles and neuropathies like tingling fingers are some signs your body is low on B12, which plays a vital role in the function of the central nervous system. It’s a common deficiency, especially in vegetarians and those with gastrointestinal absorbtion issues. Fish, meat, poultry, eggs and dairy are rich in vitamin B12, as are fortified cereals.

Vitamin D: Many patients screen low on vitamin D since it primarily comes from sunlight, and we don’t get enough from sun alone. “We also know that low D levels are associated with anxiety and depression, and it’s good for our immune systems,” she says. While vitamin D is not found in many food sources, eggs are a win, along with salmon and oily fishes like mackerel, red meat and fortified cereals.