The Benefits of Weighted Blankets for Autism Spectrum Disorder

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism spectrum disorder is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterized by various conditions of social behavioral disorders, verbal and non-verbal communication problems, and repetitive behaviors.

There are different types of autism and they all present different types of challenges. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 68 children in America is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder.

Each year, approximately 50,000 adolescents with autism become adults who lose autism support services. As a result, 35% of autistic patients lose their verbal communication skills and the same amount of autistic patients see their intellectual abilities reduced. Several physical and mental health problems result from autism, including insomnia, sleep disorders, attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and anxiety.

Although there are different treatments to relieve symptoms of autism, no standard treatment has been developed so far. People with this disorder face many social problems due to the social challenges they face, and with a continuous sleep disorder they develop many health problems. As patients face the negative effects of autism daily, they need ongoing support. Parents and partners of patients with autism often have to lend a hand to prevent patients from falling into depression and becoming socially unavailable.

What Are Weighted Blankets?

Weighted blankets are quite different from normal blankets. They are specially designed to help people suffering from many diseases and ailments. These blankets contain special padding to make them heavier than other blankets. They are known as an unconventional treatment for people who suffer from sleep and social disorders.
The weight of the blanket is adjusted according to the person who will use it. Most patients with anxiety, sleep disturbances, hyperactivity disorders and autism disorders find a weighted blanket to be of great help. The reason for this preference is the basic concept of these blankets called Deep Pressure Touch Stimulation (DPTS).

How Can Weighted Blankets help?

Weighted blankets provide support for autistic patients, especially during sleep, through deep pressure stimulation (DPTS).

The feeling of being hugged while sleeping improves the feeling of security. The uniformly distributed weight exerts a slight pressure on certain points of the body, which is very soothing and relaxing.

Weighted blankets can also improve the social behavior of autistic patients because they do not wake up as much during their sleep cycle, thereby improving their overall mood throughout the day. Temple Grandin, a Ph.D. researcher, has revealed in his research that deep tactile pressure stimulation (DPTS) can be effective in managing anxiety and tactile sensitivity in autistic patients. According to his research, it is as beneficial for adults as it is for children.

Autistic patients 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 soft-touch provided by a weighted blanket mimics the feeling of a hug, which can be a source of comfort in this condition.

Treatment for Sleep Disorder

Autism spectrum disorder can cause a variety of problems, and most people diagnosed with autism also have a sleep disorder.

It affects the general health but can also cause mood swings and lead to uncomfortable social behavior. It is obvious that a person who does not sleep well is not able to function properly during the day. This is why it is even more important for a person with autism to sleep well.

The weight of the blanket is distributed evenly so that users do not feel discomfort on any body part. Using a weighted blanket as deep pressure therapy improves the chances of patients with autism sleeping properly. These blankets give a sense of security and safety due to the contact and gentle pressure imitating a hug. The feeling of calm and security leads to longer periods of deep sleep. These positive effects are also supported by a group of American researchers who discovered in their study that a significant amount of participants chose weighted blankets as an effective means of increasing the quality of sleep.

Stress Reduction

Often, patients with ASD complain about stress and suffer from 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 leads to stress and anxiety. 

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 and stress. 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 DPTS provided by the blankets.

Lowering Anxiety

When you are unable to perform normally in different activities as compared to your peers you would definitely not feel good. Even when constant support and treatment are provided to autism patients, continued behavior difficulties can result in anxiety and depression. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) affects not only your physical but also your mental health. People with ASD often feel left out and alone. 

However, anxiety is directly linked 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. 

Weighted blankets being a safe therapy not only helps you to sleep for an extended period of time but also helps to keep you stress and anxiety-free. This situation could lead to improved social behavior. 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 a 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 the Journal of Child Neurology indicated that the parents of 60% of the children involved in the experiment reported improved sleep and 27% reported 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.

Conclusion

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a challenging condition affecting the lives of patients worldwide who suffer both mentally and physically in various ways. 

There are different kinds of treatments to help with autism symptoms, but due to the unavailability of standard treatment, one can choose between the options according to the needs of the patient. The use of weighted blankets is a drug-free therapy for autism patients and its advantages have been proven scientifically. This treatment is effective even for those who are taking medication and can be used as a complementary treatment for added benefits. 

References

  1. 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].
  2. 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.
  3. 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].

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