The lights seem so much brighter than normal, and the walls feel like they’re closing in. The sounds in the room sound louder than they really are. Like fingernails scraped on a chalkboard, the sounds are pressing in and crowding out her thoughts. Amber can barely form a sentence.
There was a time when moments like this would have spiraled straight to a meltdown.
Deep pressure. What is that?
If you do a cursory Google-search on weighted blankets (who here hasn’t turned to Dr. Google every now and again?) and/or sensory processing disorder, you’ll find a lot of talk about sensory input via deep pressure. But what is that?
There are a lot of ways we could describe or explain sensory input, but for now, we’ll start with just one. Dr. Temple Grandin. You’ve probably heard of her.
How deep pressure affects anxiety
While the concepts of sensory input and deep pressure have been utilized by occupational therapists for over 30 years, the idea that deep pressure could positively affect anxiety is often attributed to Dr. Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, who has made significant contributions both as an autistic self-advocate and as a consultant on animal behavior.
One of her inventions includes “the squeeze machine”, which she originally designed for her own use, to calm her own anxiety and panic attacks.
Needing touch, but not wanting to be held?
In her research paper, Calming Effects of Deep Touch Pressure in Patients with Autistic Disorder, College Students, and Animals, Grandin explains that while growing up she always wanted to be held. At the same time, she would react negatively to the stimulation of being touched. The squeeze machine helped her meet those needs for deep pressure, and over time, helped her be more able to handle human touch.
In her research, she recorded the responses of adult college students who used the squeeze machine. Basically, more than half the students found the deep pressure quite relaxing; some described it as a tension reliever.
Grandin talks about how “deep touch pressure is the type of surface pressure that is exerted in most types of firm touching, holding, stroking, petting of animals, or swaddling.” She goes on to explain that “a very light touch alerts the nervous system, but deep pressure is relaxing and calming.”
Have you seen a newborn infant relax when swaddled in the days following their birth? Turns out that that same sensation is craved by many children and adults, too, and when that deep pressure is utilized independently (versus restraint by others — more on that in another post) , it can have a very effective calming effect.
What do you do when you can’t get a squeeze machine?
While a weighted blanket is obviously not a squeeze machine, it has some similarities in that it is to be used independently (controlled by the user), and it provides deep pressure touch.
Grandin explains on her website that the children [and adults] most likely to benefit from a weighted blanket are those who “seek deep pressure by rolling up in blankets or who get under mattresses”. She observes that “deep pressure can be easily applied by rolling a child in heavy mats or getting under bean bag chairs, […] [using a] weighted vest, squeeze machine or weighted blanket to help sleep.”
Deep pressure facilitates focus and self-organization
Research using weighted therapy products (such as a vest, or blanket) has shown that the weight can have an impact on a person’s ability to focus and self-organize (more on that term in another post). The deep pressure offered by these products can affect a person’s fight-or-flight response, decreasing one’s arousal or anxiety, resulting in “enhanc[ed] adaptation, emotion regulation, occupational performance, and participation…”
Just like for Amber…
Today, Amber has a weighted blanket. Today she takes note of the overload, finds a quiet spot, pulls her weighted blanket over her body, and allows herself time to re-center, regaining her sense of control. The weight makes her feel safe, “deep into the ground”, rather than bouncing all over the place on the inside. The blanket lets her know where her body is in relation to the space around her.
How to Know if Weighted Blankets Really Work
Are you skeptical of solutions that are widely touted as natural problem solvers, but have little to no scientific backing? You want to believe them, you do. You simply have very strong feelings about companies with claims that are unsubstantiated, particularly when those promises come with a high price-tag.
If the claims are true, a weighted blanket would be worth it’s weight in gold… but you want to see the research.
And so you should.
Now you CAN. In an easy-to-read format, to boot. How to Know if Weighted Blankets really Work addresses how the blankets work, the research behind their effectiveness & safety, and whether or not weighted blankets really can do all the things.
Be the first to get your free copy!
Put your name on the early-bird list and be the first to receive YOUR copy of How to Know if Weighted Blankets Really Work (and if research supports the use of weighted blankets).
Grandin T. Calming Effects of Deep Touch Pressure in Patients with Autistic Disorder, College Students, and Animals. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology. Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., Publishers [serial online]. 1992; 2:1. Available at: http://www.grandin.com/inc/squeeze.html Accessed August 4, 2015
Grandin T. Sensory Therapies and Autism. Temple Grandin’s Website. Available at:
http://www.templegrandin.com/ Accessed Aug 4, 2015
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