Over the past several years, scientists and medical professionals worldwide have made great efforts in understanding autism, and how to deal with it. As a result, we now understand that there is not a concise catchall term for autism because this developmental disability features many narrow variations and adaptations within its spectrum. Additionally, the root of autism has yet to be determined, because a dense mixture of genetic, environmental, and medicinal factors implicate each specific variant.
The autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as it’s commonly referred to, encompasses a wide range of conditions characterized by general difficulties with social skills, recurring behaviors, speech inhibitions, and non-verbal misunderstandings. From Childhood Disintegrative Disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome to Pervasive Development Disorder and Rett Syndrome, the autism spectrum reflects the intense discrepancy in challenges and strengths exhibited by different autistic individuals, as each specific condition comes with its own set of complications.
Regardless of their age, autistic individuals are faced with a seemingly infinite number of challenges on a daily basis, ranging from interpersonal issues, such as an aversion to sharing toys or embracing physical contact, to inexplicable tendencies, such as incessant fidgeting, acting impulsively, or exhibiting fussy eating habits. However, it’s important to note that autistic people are incredible individuals in their own right, as they are creative, talented, smart, and imaginative, just like the rest of us. The only real dissimilarity lies in the realm of expression and communication because autism incites an uncommon, oft-anxious response to environmental stimuli. Simply stated, ASD forces afflicted individuals to internalize their surroundings in a different way.
Finding a Consistent Solution
Thus, the autism spectrum disorder takes on a different form within each person, which implies that an Asperger’s patient will have a varied set of needs as compared to someone struggling with Rett Syndrome, for example. This concept makes it difficult to institute widespread guidelines, medications, and strategies for treating and regulating the condition, let alone find a cure. There is, however, one transferable product that has been scientifically proven to provide relief from much of the emotional and expressive challenges that come along with this developmental disability: the autism weighted blanket.
Typically these blankets contain some form of ergonomically weighted material, such as plastic beads or metal pellets, which are woven and sewn into quilted layers of fabric. Most of the blankets are manufactured with parent concerns in mind, as they tend to be:
- Extremely forgiving and soft
- Fire retardant
- Comprised of an Eco-friendly fabric, such as organic cotton, industrial hemp, recycled polyester, or woven bamboo.
These blankets feature anti-bacterial properties, superior breathability, and an entirely biodegradable construct, which further reinforces their wholesome makeup. The weighted pellets always remain evenly distributed throughout the blankets due to the independent fabric chambers within. Parents don’t have to worry about the pellets spilling out either, as each compartment is double sewn in its own “bean bag.”
Now it’s time to address the functionality of a weighted blanket for autism by assessing its inherent benefits.
The Science behind the Concept
Using a weighted blanket for autism allows parents and caretakers to manage and quell some of the most common manifestations of ASD, many of which start posing lifestyle problems as early as age two. These blankets revolve around the targeted concept of deep pressure touch stimulation, which has been intensely studied over the past several decades.
It all started in 1947 when scientists determined that stimulating a cat’s cerebellar vermis caused the feline to become overly sensitive to touch and sound. This research showed that the cerebellum essentially functions as a volume control system of sorts, which explains the direct correlation between ASD and cerebellar dysfunction. A simplistic depiction of the cerebellum’s sensitivity was facilitated on a farm many years ago when researchers observed how a cow responded to touch. When the cow felt a tickle from a bloat fly landing on its skin, the animal started kicking and acting viciously. However, when the farmer placed a firm hand on the cow’s side, the outward anxiety and stress seemed to instantaneously melt away. As a result, scientists ascertained that a light, dainty touch alerts the central nervous system, whereas deep pressure is more tranquil and palliative.
Although the cerebellum has long been referred to as the guiding light for our motor skills, it’s important to note that it also plays a huge role in socialization, communication, and interpersonal contact, which makes this relationship particularly significant in the realm of ASD. This is why many of today’s occupational therapists, particularly those who work exclusively with hyperactive children, employ the use of deep pressure therapy (DPT) as a way to encourage calmer, more docile behavior. Lo and behold, this same concept comes into play when using a weighted blanket for autism.
Finding Sanctuary in a Blanket
As any ASD parent will tell you, an autistic child simply wants to be loved and cared for. A weighted blanket provides sanctuary and reprieve from environmental vicissitudes, which effectively lends a loving hand in moments when you simply cannot.
When anxiety, stress, or fretfulness arise during the course of a regular day, simply drape the blanket across his or her lap, neck, or back. The DPT stimulation causes the immediate production of serotonin in the child. This hormone encourages happy thoughts and a calmer disposition. During the nighttime, on the other hand, the increased serotonin levels help facilitate the production of melatonin, a hormone that helps us achieve a restful, soothing night of sleep. As sleep disturbances are all-too-common in people with autism, a weighted blanket is a perfect solution because it discourages tossing and turning without being overly restrictive or warm.
We all stand to benefit from a compassionate hug or loving embrace, and it’s important to note that autistic people are no different than the rest of us. In fact, they actually need it much more so, especially on a neurological level. A weighted blanket mimics a caring touch, which is why it’s such a great tool to use in coping with ASD.