As her daughter aged, shopping with my best friend (or doing anything, really) was becoming increasingly difficult. Ava spent much of our time together yelling and covering her ears when any high-pitched, ordinary sound was present. Upon hearing the sound, she would promptly sit down on the floor, regardless of where we were, cross her arms, and begin to rock back and forth. Only after the sound ceased or her mother intervened was Ava able to calm and return to shopping with us. As frustrating as it was becoming for me (I just wanted to find a new pair of jeans!), I understood and was patient. Ava’s behavior, often viewed by outsiders as odd or strange, was normal for her. She had been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at three years old and was making significant strides in social and language development despite these routine disruptions.
LEARNING ABOUT AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a term used to describe a class of brain development disorders. These disorders are characterized by a disruption in the development of certain skills such as language, communication, social interaction, and motor abilities. They vary greatly in the degree of severity and impact on the individual and are often diagnosed at a very young age.
Previously separated into several distinct types, ASD is the umbrella term for a number of different disorders. These include: Autistic Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, and Asperger Syndrome. The term ASD is most often associated specifically with Autistic Disorder and Asperger Syndrome.
There are some commonalities shared by all of the ASD diagnoses. Delayed or interrupted communication skills both verbally and nonverbally (such as body language) is fairly common. Additionally, many individuals have an altered or disrupted pattern of social skills and integration with people around them. These traits, if severe, can cause a person to seem separated or withdrawn from the world around him/her. For some of those on the spectrum, the presence of repetitive behaviors or actions (such as flapping arms or repeating phrases aloud) is a strong indication to outsiders that a disorder of this type may be present. Hyper or hyposensitivity to the five senses is also common; individuals on the spectrum often overreact to general stimuli or underreact to intense sensations.
THERAPY OPTIONS FOR ASD
Due to the complex nature of this category of disorders, there is not a traditional method of treatment as a path to follow. For many, it is guesswork to figure out what the best options are for a child or an adult on the spectrum. Making the treatment of ASD even more difficult is the frequent presence of traits from other childhood or behavior disorders. Irritability, aggression, hyperactivity, inattention, anxiety, or depression may present as characteristics in a person’s daily functioning and disrupt or delay treatment. Sleep disturbances are extremely common and prevent an individual from being fully rested.
Medication is recommended by some physicians for the behaviors that are present, rather than for the diagnosis itself. There has been much debate in the professional world about the ethicality of medicating children – some are greatly supportive of medication as an option while others view it as a hindrance to therapeutic behavior modification. Recent research indicates that actions to alter a child’s behavior should begin with behavior therapy and non-medication forms of treatment before beginning a medication regimen. However, if the severity of symptoms is significant enough to cause a disruption in therapeutic treatment, medication can regulate negative behaviors enough to create a baseline or foundation upon which to build. While some parents prefer medication as a remedy for the behavior preventing their child from functionally normally, many remain skeptical about the long term consequences of introducing their children to synthetic chemical substances at a young age. In addition, many physicians are hesitant to maintain a medication regimen without evidence of other treatment options, such as behavior therapy, being utilized.
Behavior and occupational therapy is also a common treatment type for children on the spectrum. These models are unique to each profession but work together toward a common goal: creating a pattern of behaviors and responses more typical of a child’s age than what is currently present.
WEIGHTED BLANKETS FOR AUTISM
Sleep is an area of typical functioning that can be greatly impacted by the symptoms and behaviors present in ASD. For both children and adults, falling and staying asleep may be difficult if hypersensitivity to surroundings is present. This sleep disruption can cause problem areas to seem amplified and decrease the likelihood of waking rested. This cycle can progressively worsen if the pattern continues untreated, creating any number of new problems. So what, then, can be done to improve sleep and decrease symptoms by ending the cycle of disturbances?
The use of weighted blankets as a form of deep pressure therapy is a treatment option for improving sleep that has become popular due to its resounding success with those on the spectrum. Weighted blankets can be used for children or adults. The use of weight as a therapeutic technique is relatively low risk if applied appropriately and is accessible at a low cost in comparison to other treatment options. The use of items such as weighted blankets for autism during sleep can promote a sense of safety and security, much like being held. Deep, or pressured, touch calms, relaxes the body, and encourages the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter, which is later converted by the body into melatonin prompting tiredness and sleep in a natural cycle. In other words, this deep pressure encourages the brain and body to work together to create a healthy, typical sleep cycle. For those on the spectrum, the heaviness of a weighted blanket can reduce hypersensitivity and promote physical and mental calmness.
SEPARATING MYTH FROM TRUTH WITH WEIGHTED BLANKETS FOR AUTISM
Like with any other diagnosis, the treatment types for those on the autism spectrum must be adjusted and individualized to meet specific needs. For some, the use of a weighted blanket for autism may be the answer for calming tantrums; for others it may be the answer to restful sleep. Each treatment modality must be a custom fit. Despite some common myths, those on the spectrum will not always require hands-on care around the clock. Most will become productive members of society and will be able to function independently as long as each is given the tools and skills to do so. While a weighted blanket may not be able to fulfill every need, it may be a helpful addition to those in need of a safe, hug-like squeeze.
WHERE TO BUY WEIGHTED BLANKETS FOR AUTISM
Weighted blankets for autism that can be used for sensory therapy are currently on sale from Yorkville Blankets. Yorkville blankets are a premium quality blanket brand that are affordable enough to try out if you are buying your first weighted blanket, but are high quality an made to last. Yorkville Weighted Blankets provide sensory input without too much heat so you can get a good night sleep without tossing and turning or overheating. These weighted blankets can be purchased here or on Amazon.