Weighted Blankets For Autism

A common characteristic of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is their sensitivity to sensory information such as touch.

Despite this, touch therapy with weighted blankets are part of an effective treatment protocol.

To understand this more accurately, let's talk about touch for a moment.

Two kinds of positive touch

Discriminative touch: The part of this sense that turns shape, pressure, texture, vibration, and how slippery something is into logic.

For example, if you are feeling around in your pocket for coins instead of keys, you are using discriminative touch.

Affective touch: The caress or stroke from another, which translates into a good feeling.

How the sense of touch works

Although discriminative and affective touch are sensed by different skin neurons and thus, by different brain regions, both types follow the same process.

Neurons in your skin pick up specific stimuli. They collect all the information and form a 'picture' of what is going on.

Let's go back to the coins in your pocket. Neurons in the skin of your fingers sense the shape, curve, and slipperiness of the coins. They send these and other bits of information to your brain, so it can figure out what is being touched.

New research into affective touch

Discriminative touch has long been the research favourite. First, it was considered the more 'meaningful' of the two in our daily lives. Second, scientists only found the human affective skin neurons relatively recently (the 1990s).

The affective touch skin neurons are called “C-tactile (CT) afferents.” They are found only in hairy skin and are tuned into the slow, soft, comfortable strokes of another.

Connection between affective touch and emotion

All touch activates certain areas of the brain, yet only affective touch activates a part of the limbic system called the insular cortex. This is significant because the limbic structures in your brain deal with memory and emotion.

People with ASD and touch

Most people with ASD (95%) have some level of sensitivity to touch. Types of touch that a non-ASD person would rate as 'regular,' someone with ASD might rate as too hard (hypersensitivity) or too soft (hyposensitivity).

Here are some examples:

  • Certain clothes are uncomfortable.
  • Weather conditions such as wind, rain, and sunshine can be painful.
  • Touch by a stranger produces a heightened, negative response.

Putting all the information together…

Scientists have found that the stronger the characteristics of ASD, the less those individuals like affective touch.

Why use Touch Therapy at all?

Touch therapy has both short- and long-term positive effects on each and every body. A big benefit is lower stress levels (reduced cortisol) and higher 'all is right with the world' levels (increased dopamine and serotonin).

For those with ASD, specifically, touch therapy can help reduce muscle spasms and heart rate for a more comfortable day and a better night's sleep.

It can also raise levels of alertness and focus.

Up to one-third of people with ASD have seizures. Touch therapy can reduce their frequency.

It can also lower social anxiety, so that the person has a higher level of social abilities, including speech (linguistic ability).

Touch Therapy and ASD

Through a gradual process of habituation (getting used to something), people with ASD can also benefit from touch therapy.

The catch is that the touch needs to be dependable. In other words, it has to be the same each time so that no negative triggers are activated.

Enter the weighted blanket

Weighted blankets, such as those expertly crafted by Hippo Hug™, provide a comforting level of dependable touch.

People with ASD can rely on the consistency of the touch experience. As a result, they will gradually be able to tolerate longer and longer touch sessions, reaping the benefits of touch therapy.

Want to try a Medical Weighted Blanket for your facility?

Our Hippo Hug™ specialists can help you.

Weighted Blankets

  Posted: Tue Mar 17th 2020 12:00pm  6 months ago

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What we like: Material is easy to clean and stain resistant, which is important for multi-patient use. Sizes and weights are well matched for our population. -Sarah F. Occupational Therapist, McMaster Children's Hospital