What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder which is characterized by various conditions of impaired social behavior, verbal and non-verbal communication problems and repetitive behaviors.
There are different types of autism and they all present various sets of challenges. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in every 68 children in America is suffering from Autism.
Every year, about 50 000 teens with autism become adults losing the autism support services. 35 % of autism patients lose their verbal communication abilities and the same amount of autism patients have impaired intellectual abilities. There are several physical and mental health issues that result from autism including insomnia, sleep disorder, attention deficit & hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and anxiety.
Although there are different treatments used to fight autism, no standard treatment has been developed so far. People suffering from this disorder face many social problems because of their inability to interact socially. With continuous sleep disorder, they develop numerous health issues. As the patients have to face the negative effects of autism every day, they need continuous support. Parents and partners of autism patients often have to lend a helping hand to save the patients from diving into depression and becoming socially unavailable.
What are Weighted Blankets?
Weighted Blankets are pretty different from normal blankets. They are specially designed in order to help people suffering from a number of diseases. These blankets contain special filling to make them heavier than other blankets. They are known as an unconventional treatment for people who suffer from sleep disorders and impaired social behaviors.
Each weighted blanket carries different weight according to the person who is going to use it. Weight is equally distributed to provide proper support to the patients. Many patients with anxiety, sleep disorder, hyperactivity disorder and autism disorder patients prefer to use weighted blankets. The reason behind this preference is the basic concept of these blankets known as Deep Pressure Touch Stimulation (DPTS).
As the autism patients suffer from impaired social behavior, verbal and non-verbal communication difficulties and sleep disorders, they can really use the Deep Pressure Touch Stimulation (DPTS). The feeling of being hugged when they sleep improves the feeling of security. The evenly distributed weight puts pressure on certain points of the body that helps to calm the person using it.
Weighted blankets can also improve the social behavior of the autism patients as they don’t wake up as much during their sleep cycle. Temple Grandin, a Ph.D. researcher revealed in his research that Deep Touch Pressure Stimulation (DPTS) can be effective in handling anxiety and touch sensitivity among patients with autism. According to his research, it is as much beneficial for adults as it is for children.
How Can Weighted Blankets help?
Weighted Blankets provide a support to patients with autism, especially during sleep, thanks to the Deep Pressure Touch Stimulation (DPTS).
Most of the people suffering from autism not only go through sleep disorders but also face touch sensitivity and social behavior difficulties. These blankets have evenly distributed weight as they are made of pockets filled with heavy glass beads or poly pellets. These pockets provide a calming effect on the people using the blanket during sleep. Even a simple touch can be really annoying for people with autism, making them uncomfortable at social gatherings. These special blankets can get them used to human contact because they provide a similar feeling.
Patients with Autism are vulnerable to various disorders such as insomnia, hyperactivity disorder, anxiety, and depression. The constant feeling of being alone can make things worse for these patients. The gentle touch provided by a weighted blanket can be a source of hope in this condition.
Even though the weight of a heavy blanket must be different depending on the weight of the person using it, the positive effects remain the same.
Treatment for Sleep Disorder
Autism Spectrum Disorder includes a set of disorders and almost all affected people also suffer from a sleep disorder.
A sleep disorder affects health but also provokes mood swings and uncomfortable social behavior. It is obvious that a person who does not sleep well is not able to function properly during the day. That’s why it’s even more important for someone with autism to be able to sleep well.
Weighted Blankets provide the feeling of being gently hugged and it has a calming effect. When a person sleeps under a weighted blanket she doesn’t feel alone. The gentle pressure on certain points of the body provides a feeling of being safe while sleeping.
The weight of the blanket is distributed evenly so that users feel no discomfort on any body parts. The use of a weighted blanket as a deep pressure therapy improves the chances of autistic patients to sleep properly. These blankets give a sense of security and safety because of the contact imitating a hug. The feeling of calmness and safety leads to longer periods of sound sleep. These positive effects are also supported by a group of the American researchers who found out in their study that a number of participants chose weighted blankets as a way of increasing sleep quality.
Often, the patients of ASD complain of stress and depression because of the overall impact of the disorder. It is obvious that a person would be stressed if he/she isn’t able to perform normally during social gatherings and doesn’t have a normal sleep schedule. The frustration kicks in the moment you think you are unable to speak, convey your message properly or have a repetitive behavior. This situation could lead to stress and anxiety. Weighted blankets can be handy in this aspect as they can give a gentle touch feeling which results in the release of serotonin and melatonin.
According to a study by US National Library of Medicine in 2004, it was concluded that weighted blankets can be of great help for someone suffering from sleep dysfunction, stress or pain. Twelve people were involved in this study. The result indicated that there was a noticeable decrease in the release of cortisol which is also known as “stress hormone”. It was obvious that the reduced level of “stress hormone” was due to the presence of evenly distributed weight on the body.
When you are unable to perform normally in different activities as compared to your peers you would definitely not feel good. Although constant support and treatment is provided to autism patients but continued behavior difficulties can result in anxiety and depression. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects not only your physical but also your mental health. You feel left out and alone most of the times. Anxiety levels are directly related to the level of serotonin released in the body.
The Deep Pressure Touch Stimulation (DPTS) provided by the weighted blankets can result in the release of serotonin in the body. Serotonin is a hormone that provides a calming effect. The evenly distributed gentle touch on the body is the reason behind the release of this particular hormone. When the brain provides a calming message to the body the anxiety levels are dropped instantly. When the mind and the body are at peace, the anxiety cannot affect the patient. In this way, weighted blankets being a safe therapy not only helps you to sleep for an extended period of time but also keeps you anxiety free. This situation could lead to improved social behavior as the patient would be calm and stress-free. As this is just a therapy, not a medical treatment, there are no side effects.
The same Deep Pressure Touch Stimulation (DPTS) that increases the release of serotonin also enhances the release of melatonin. Melatonin is also known as “sleep hormone”. It helps to decrease anxiety and stress by providing a normal sleep cycle to the human body. Due to the gentle pressure of the weighted blankets on specific body point, melatonin is released. This specific hormone normalizes the sleep cycle and helps the patient to remain stress-free and away from depression. A study published in Journal of Child Neurology indicated that the parents of 60% of the children involved in the experiment reported improved sleep and 27% reported to no longer have sleep concerns. All of these children were treated with an increased amount of melatonin. This indicates the effectiveness of weighted blankets treating insomnia and anxiety.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a serious concern all around the world and the patients really suffer from it both mentally and physically in various ways.
There are different kinds of treatment for autism but due to unavailability of a standard treatment, one can choose between the options according to the needs of the patient. Weighted blankets are a non-traditional therapy for autism patients having scientifically proven advantages. As mentioned earlier, weighted blankets are not a treatment but a therapy for autism disorder. Even if you are taking medication, the therapy can provide added benefit.
- Grandin, T. (1992). Calming Effects of Deep Touch Pressure in Patients with Autistic Disorder, College Students, and Animals. [online] Grandin.com. Available at: http://www.grandin.com/inc/squeeze.html [Accessed 19 Oct. 2017].
- Gee, B., McOmber, T., Sutton, J. and Lloyd, K. (2017). Efficacy of Weighted Blankets for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder, Sensory Overresponsivity, and Sleep Disturbance. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy.
- Anderson, I., Kaczmarska, J. and McGrew, S. (2017). Melatonin for Insomnia in Children With Autism Spectrum DisordersJournal of Child Neurology – Ivy M. Andersen, JoAnna Kaczmarska, Susan G. McGrew, Beth A. Malow, 2008. [online] Journals.sagepub.com. Available at: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0883073807309783 [Accessed 19 Oct. 2017].