Autism can often make life difficult for both patients and caretakers alike. With the struggles of dealing with stimuli, communicative disorders, and often a lack of sleep, many people look for whatever they can to make the day to day grind easier for both themselves and their loved ones. One such tool could very well be a weighted blanket from SleepForce. What is Autism, and what can a weighted blanket do to help the symptoms? Let’s find out.
What is Autism?
To begin with, Autism is still not something that has been fully elucidated in terms of cause, though it can be said that there are both genetic and environmental factors. What is fairly well understood however are the symptoms and early markers. Some of these markers that a child may have autism is that by the first year of age, a child is not producing pre-speech vocalizations, nor pointing, and by 16 months has not spoken single words yet. This is often usually paired with a limited or no response to their name being called, later severe social issues including a loss of language, poor eye contact and a predisposition to ordering or lining up toys in a symmetric pattern. Later on, symptoms tend to continue in a social pattern, as making friends or speaking to individuals is incredibly difficult for even most high functioning individuals with autism, and is often compounded with a strict adherence to set routines as a guiding path through daily life.
Often alongside or part of an Autism Spectrum Disorder is a Sensory Input Disorder and other mental illnesses like anxiety, which can make the already difficult predicament of Autistic individuals even more so. Sensory Input Disorders for their part often make it so that individuals suffering from said disorder are at either extreme when it comes to stimulation: Either there is a constant need for stimuli (particularly touch), or there is a constant need to avoid stimulus to the point where feeling clothes on one’s skin can be nearly unbearable. The current theory on the cause of Sensory Input Disorder is that there are several genetic factors which can lower or greatly increase the ionizing threshold for neural synapses, making one’s sensitivity to stimuli greatly increase or decrease (respectively) as the physiological barrier for being “noticed” can be affected. White matter in the brain can also have slightly altered microstructures, and the brain can sometimes send these stimuli for cognitive rather than automatic processing, which can lead to people often feeling overwhelmed and seen as inattentive.
How can a Weighted Blanket help with Autism?
Now, you might be thinking “how on earth can a weighted blanket reduce the symptoms of autism or a sensory processing disorder. It’s just a blanket, right?” Well, not quite. To fully understand how a weighted blanket fits into easing the symptoms of those disorders, a more complete picture of the treatment of autism and sensory processing disorders may be in order.
For Autism, there is simply no cure, and often “easy days” are hard to find. Instead, the medical community often view the treatment of autism in terms of management of deficits, educational intervention and the use of medications. In terms of management, the primary focus of treatment is to help lessen the social problems and to help increase independence even from a young age. The use of intensive Applied Behavioral Analysis can sometimes increase the odds of a successful outcome, as can sustained therapy and special education which can give autistic individuals more tools to handle life and thus are less likely to revert to previous, often maladaptive, behaviors. This is often paired with Developmental Social Pragmatic model interventions to achieve the best results.
Education is often paired with management as a means of enhancing global (overall) functioning in both children and adults, though the improvements are usually seen most when an individual is young. While the success of this segment is largely dependent on how highly the individual with autism functions to begin with, and with successful implementation can help those with higher IQ’s and ASD to fully take advantage of the gifts they’re given, while not falling victim to the problems that usually accompany them.
Medications are usually used as a way to help mitigate behavioral symptoms or comorbidities as opposed to actually work as curative measures. These can include antidepressants, antipsychotics, and antianxiety medications among others which can be used to help give the autistic person a chance to experience life as normally as possible.
With regards to sensory processing disorders, treatments are usually are limited so sensory processing and integration therapies which can either help an individual get “inoculated” to high intensity environments, gain adaptive responses, and be able to handle day to day activities in a socially acceptable manner.
So that leaves us with the Weighted Blankets and how they can aid in dealing with Autism and SPD. In the case of Autism, the blanket can often serve as a “centering” device that can help an individual adapt to changes in routine and pattern, as the weight and the heat produced can increase serotonin which helps keep an individual calm. Likewise, this can be used to handle “meltdowns” as the comforting nature of the weight and warmth can also release endorphins much like a deep tissue massage does, but can also aid in a common practice of nesting where the affected individual can create their own space, safe from the outside world until they’ve calmed down. Such blankets as the SleepForce blanket can also help with sleep problems as the body tends to release more melatonin while using it, and can increase restful sleep as well as positive behavioral responses the next day (or after a nap). With regard to SPD, the same qualities that help an individual calm down can also greatly satisfy the need for touch in a socially acceptable manner (for example, having the blanket lie across the person’s lap) though it should not be used if the individual is currently touch averse.
Overall, a weighted blanket can act as a wonderful tool to give the loved one in your life a more normal day-to-day existence, and make them more capable of handling whatever stressors come their way. It can often be incorporated into treatments, and there is emerging data that it may increase the chances of success in therapeutic approaches due to neurotransmitter regulation and an overall feeling of safety. If you are interested in trying out a weighted blanket, please take a look at the SleepForce selection to find the perfect blanket for your circumstances.