Everyone loves the feeling of a good hug, but for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the pressure in a hug accomplishes an entirely different purpose. This article will explain the science behind applied pressure techniques in autism and how they can help children with autism regulate their emotions.
What is Deep Pressure Therapy?
Deep pressure therapy is a type of applied pressure technique used to help manage symptoms of autism. It involves applying gentle, consistent pressure on your body in order to induce a calming, soothing sensation.
This type of therapy has been found to be particularly beneficial for people with autism who experience heightened levels of anxiety and sensory overload.
Deep pressure therapy is best described as the feeling experienced when someone is hugged, squeezed, or held firmly – like the embrace one might receive from a parent or loved one.
The idea behind this form of therapy is to mimic those types of comforting sensations in order to relieve many of the issues experienced by people with ASD.
Dr. Temple Grandin, a world-renowned professor who also happens to be autistic, developed deep pressure therapy as an effective tool to help people like herself manage their symptoms.
She believes that applying gentle pressure on the body can be calming for those who experience sensory overload or difficulty managing emotions. By using this technique, she has seen many positive changes in her patients’ behavior and well-being.
So how exactly does this type of technique work? We’re glad you asked.
How Does Deep Pressure Therapy Work?
This type of therapy helps children with autism regulate their proprioception – the awareness of where your body is in space and how it moves. Here is a breakdown of everything that is triggered in the body – for the better – after intense, sustained pressure is applied:
- Deep pressure on the body causes the release of endorphins, which are feel-good chemicals in your brain. This can help reduce stress and increase a sense of calm and relaxation.
- It activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for calming down your body when you’re feeling stressed or anxious.
- The pressure stimulates touch receptors in the skin, giving a pleasant sensation that helps to relax muscles and reduce tension in the body.
- When deep pressure is applied to certain parts of the body it can also stimulate nerve pathways that travel from your spinal cord up into your brain, helping to regulate and balance the body’s response to stress.
- Pressure can also activate proprioceptors in the joints, which are receptors that help your brain process information about how your body is moving in space. This helps with coordination and balance.
As your child feels more relaxed, their body is better able to self-regulate and they are less likely to experience anxiety or stress. Deep pressure therapy can also help improve other areas of life for children with autism.
Benefits of Deep Pressure Therapy for Children With Autism
Here are just some of the benefits that deep pressure therapy provides for children with autism:
- Relaxation. Deep pressure helps relax and soothe children who are feeling overwhelmed or anxious. This overall sense of peace and calm can last for hours after therapy.
- Improved sleep. Pressure stimulation has been found to help improve sleep in children with autism. This is especially helpful since many children with ASD have difficulty sleeping through the night.
- Reduced sensory overload. These techniques can also help reduce sensory overload. When a child feels too much stimulation from loud noises, bright lights, or other environmental factors, deep pressure can provide relief and make them feel more comfortable. This especially helps children with ASD better tolerate the school environment.
- Increased focus and concentration. Deep pressure helps increase focus and concentration by calming down the mind so that it can better process information.
- Improved social interactions. With less sensory overload, children with autism can more easily engage in conversations and interact with their peers.
- Reduced aggression. Applying pressure to the body has been found to reduce aggressive behavior and self-harm in some kids on the spectrum. This is because it helps them feel calmer and better able to manage their emotions.
- Decreased occurrence of seizures. Due to its calming effect on the nervous system, this therapy has also been found to help reduce the frequency and intensity of seizures in some children with autism.
- Reduce hypersensitivity to touch. By applying gentle pressure, the child’s nervous system is calmed, and they become less sensitive to tactile sensations such as light touches or textures.
Deep pressure therapy is a great way to help your child cope better with their condition. It offers many benefits that make life easier for you and your child. So, how do you know if your child would respond well to this type of therapy? Well, there are signs you can watch for.
Signs Your Child is Seeking Deep Pressure Input
It’s important to pay attention if you notice these behaviors, so you can help your child get the sensory input they need. Here are some common signs that indicate a child is looking for pressure:
- A fondness for sleeping with weighty blankets or a heap of stuffed animals, even on sweltering nights.
- Preference for snug clothing such as leggings or elastic bands around arms and legs.
- Contentment from being bundled up, cocooned, or embraced firmly.
- Calm in restricted spaces like tents and boxes.
- Engagement in seemingly unsuitable behavior, including touching people, licking surfaces, or mouthing non-food items.
- Clenching teeth and knocking head against hard surfaces.
- Seeking tactile input by pressing into people or smacking into furniture.
If you recognize any of these behaviors in your child, they may seek deep pressure input. Talk to your doctor or an occupational therapist to learn more about how you can help meet your child’s sensory needs, either in a clinical setting or at home.
Deep Pressure Activities to Try at Home
If your child is pressure-seeking and you’re unsure what to do about it, don’t stress. There are a number of easy strategies you can try at home to help your kiddo get the pressure they need to help them feel calm and focused. Let’s unpack some of them:
- Weighted blankets. A weighted blanket is designed to provide consistent, calming pressure over the entire body. and is recommended by occupational therapists. You can find pre-made weighted blankets in various sizes and weights or make your own at home with items like rice, beans, or small fabric pieces.
- Squeeze toys. These are objects (often made out of foam) that you squeeze together; they provide a targeted amount of pressure on a specific area of the body.
- Pressure wraps. Pressure wraps are cloth strips secured around the body to provide deep pressure stimulation. They come in different styles and colors, but all work by providing gentle, consistent pressure.
- Compression garments. These tight-fitting clothes are made of lycra or spandex and provide a snug fit around the body. They can help to reduce anxiety by providing sensory input through pressure and movement.
- Swaddling. Swaddling is an ancient technique in which the child’s arms and legs are secured with fabric to provide deep pressure stimulation.
- Weighted vests. These heavy garments are worn over the child’s clothing to provide deep pressure stimulation. They come in various sizes and weights, so you can find one that best fits your child.
- Willbargers Brushing Protocol. This technique provides sensory stimulation through light, and repetitive brushing all over the body, which helps reduce anxiety levels.
- Deep Massage. Deep massage is a form of pressure therapy that uses slow, firm strokes on specific areas of the body. It can help to relax muscles, reduce anxiety levels and improve circulation.
- Therapy balls. Large, firm balls are rolled over the body or held in place on specific areas to help reduce tension and improve circulation.
- Bear hugs. This is a simple yet effective technique in which a parent or caregiver holds the child tightly for several minutes to provide calming pressure. It can help reduce stress and increase feelings of safety and security.
- Squishing (carefully) with pillows. If your child is comfortable with being squished, try creating a pillow ‘fort’. Stack up pillows to encase them, and then lightly press on each one in turn. This can be soothing for many kids with autism who may crave pressure or deep touch input.
- Making a burrito. Wrap your child in a soft blanket, tucking the ends around them like a burrito. This will help them feel secure and provide gentle pressure all over their body.
By trying some of the above techniques, you can become your child’s personal deep-pressure therapist and help them reap the benefits of this relaxing technique.
You now know the basics of applied pressure techniques and how they can be beneficial for children with autism. Pressure-seeking behaviors are common in children with autism, and applying pressure techniques safely can help relieve stress and anxiety.
On top of these basic benefits, deep pressure can also improve focus and concentration, sleep patterns, and self-regulation. By being aware of your child’s behavior and seeking professional advice if needed, you can determine if applied pressure techniques are suitable for them.
If so, you have the tools to incorporate these techniques safely and effectively at home. Take the time to observe your child’s actions and look for signs that they may need deep pressure therapy. If you have further questions, don’t hesitate to reach out for more information from professionals. You’ve got this!
If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.