John’s lean frame bothered me. Never the guy to see gloom in any situation, my naturally optimistic pal had surely thrown in the towel this time. His autistic son, Kyle (barely three years old), could scarcely sleep for ten minutes at a time. For the first time since his wife passed, I saw my naturally resilient friend cry. If being a dad is a full-time job, John is the definition for it. Kyle’s sleeplessness made sure of that.
Therapists to children suffering from Autism Spectrum Disease (ASD) usually administer a plethora of treatments for their inability to sleep. However, in terms of improving the quantity and quality of sleep in people living with ASD, current analysis tends to score the use of weighted blankets higher than other alternative therapies.
Because results are mixed and relatively inconclusive, you may wonder if they make any difference. Researcher Tegan Andrews has found that weighted blankets may not increase sleep time or reduce the time it takes to fall asleep.
It is irrespective of the fact that Kyle and others like him are aware of weighted blankets (and love them).
Such was John’s dilemma.
How Effective are Weighted Blankets?
Occupational therapists have for years, used weighted blankets as therapeutic devices for children with autism. They typically weigh 10 to 15 percent of your child’s body weight, and use the same effects as a hug from a loved one or swaddling a baby.
The additional weight puts pressure on the nervous system, calming the mind and body immediately. Scientists call this Deep Pressure Therapy. Soft and comfortable, the weight comes from non-toxic plastic poly pellets, like Beanie Babies. They come in a variety of colors.
Weighted blankets are useful for easing several symptoms of autism spectrum disorder. In addition to addressing a wide array of health issues, it is helpful for insomniacs to get the sleep they need.
Researchers have found it is possible to manage symptoms like Kyle’s using several therapies and treatments. Researchers from Harvard report mounting evidence to back massage or touch therapy. Autism patients had a more positive response to gentler, slower touch.
There are reports that touch therapy has immediate and long-term effects on body biochemistry. These include reduced levels of cortisol (stress hormone), and increased dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitter levels, which contribute to the movement, mood regulation, impulse control, and so forth.
Insomnia is not always the cause of inadequate sleep, as John’s son experienced. The right amount of sleep that is truly restful and restorative is essential to health and general well-being. To improve sleep quality or sleep hygiene, autistic persons may turn to weighted blankets. It marked the turning point in Kyle’s situation and the return of John’s joyful nature.
Weighted Blankets and Autism – A Short History
According to CDC estimates, 1 out of 68 children is born with some form of autism. They have a hard time filtering sensory input. A malfunction in one of their senses causes the nervous system to convey an excessive number of neural signals to the brain.
As the autism sufferer’s brain does not easily recognize sensory information; it does not receive the correct information from the senses. Thus, the child’s mind and body would feel unsafe, and usher in survival mode. But, Kyle and co lack the tools to soothe this fight-or-flight response. It is the reason for a weighted blanket.
The added weight instantly calms the nervous system. The proprioceptive input has an organizing effect on the brain. These combined effects are vital for the child to self-soothe before or during a melt-down.
Weighted Blankets, Autism, and Sleep – Kyle’s Journey
Sleeping at night is tough for many children with autism. Such lack of sleep can lead to anxiety disorders, starting a cycle of imbalance in children. It takes a toll on their parents too. The Journal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders published a 2015 study revealed that during weighted blanket use, sleep time increased.
Participants in the study fell asleep more quickly, and by morning, woke up more refreshed.
Weighted blankets increase melatonin production, making it less difficult to fall asleep at night. Melatonin is the hormone that controls the body’s internal clock.
Kyle’s therapists were confident that weighted blankets would be helpful through the process. While John was initially skeptical, I prodded him to give it a try. We had nothing to lose, after all. Being a drug-free option, any side effects or adverse outcomes would surely not be lethal.
What the therapists knew was that Kyle was not sleeping due to the anxiety that originated from within him. Constant re-assurance could help fill in the gaps with a calm that would lead him to sleep in the shortest possible time. A weighted blanket was the answer to the puzzle of turning a sleepless son and a concerned father into a sleeping angel and a happy, optimistic father. That latter part was necessary – I needed the John I had always known back!
Better days look like they lie ahead, but it all began with Deep Pressure Touch-creating weighted blankets. These revolutionary gentle blankets are increasingly mainstream. Time Magazine has called “blankets that ease anxiety” one of the best inventions of 2018. Many therapists find them instrumental in getting enough sleep for kids on the spectrum.
I am happy to report Kyle has become an increasingly better sleeper, listening to John read hilarious bedtime stories. It’s been quite a journey, with bursts of improvement at times, and more gentle at other times. His father has been quick to appreciate every step forward – typical John.