Calming Effects of Deep Touch Pressure in Patients with Autism

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a condition that has difficulties with social interaction and communication. Autism, however, is not a disorder with one unique characteristic. It has a wide range of distinctive traits, depending on its spectrum.

Deep Touch Pressure in Patients with Autism

ASD ranges from severely challenged to highly skilled. Every person with autism differs in the way they learn, interact, and react to problems. Some autistics require minimal support, while others may need constant accompaniment throughout their lives.

How is the sense of touch processed?

Our senses help us to recognize information to be able to react. It comes from the stimuli received from inside and outside the body. Everything you see, every sound you hear, every scent you smell, and every object you touch makes a sensation. The information goes through a process called sensory integration. 

Sensory integration is the process where the central nervous system converts sensory stimuli to a response. A child with a sensory processing disorder, such as autism, experiences increased stress and sensory overload. This often leads to meltdowns, low focus, and chronic sleeping problems.

Autism and The Sense of Touch

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Until now, there is still no firm evidence as to what causes the social difficulties of children with autism. Recent studies show that their social development delay is directly correlated with their challenge to process the sense of touch. Children experience touch aversion, where they reject any form of touch. Common reactions of touch aversion in children are:

  • Pulling away when another person tries to do a handshake, hug, or kiss;
  • Resisting help during bathtime, combing of hair, or even brushing of teeth;
  • Minimum tolerance on various textures like rough surfaces, slimy food, or bumpy toys.

To help children calm down, a form of therapy that is highly suggested by therapists and doctors is the Deep Touch Pressure. 

What is Deep Touch Pressure?

Deep touch pressure (DTP) is a tactile sensory therapy where you apply gentle pressure to the body. It involves cuddling, hugging, and massage. 

Deep touch pressure has two application methods. These are:

Human Touch Method

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The simplest way to apply deep touch pressure is by hugging the child. It should be a gentle hug – not too tight, but with little pressure. Another way is putting weight on the child’s shoulders. It is a good option if the child permits to be touched but rejects full-body contact, like hugging.

The most common method is the massage. Gentle massage over hands, feet, and trunk could improve the child’s mood and induce calmness.

A good read: Kids with autism see big benefits from massage, study says.

Hands-free method

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There are people with autism who completely reject being touched. An alternative way to the Human Touch method is by using DTP products, like clothing, blankets, bags, and toys specifically for children.

Deep touch pressure clothing products include vests and jackets. Weighted vests promote calmness and improve a child’s gait and balance. If weighted vests are too heavy for a child, pressure vest is the best alternative. 

A popular choice for the hands-free DTP product is weighted blankets. A weighted blanket provides high comfort and permits a relaxed, restful sleep. It is ideal for home use but highly suggested during travel.

Recommended read: Is a weighted blanket helpful for autism?

The Calming Effects of Deep Touch Pressure 

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The primary role of deep touch pressure on persons with autism is its calming effect. It helps decrease their stress, anxiety, pain, and overstimulation. There are lots of scenarios where DTP helps an autistic child calm down. The result, however, depends on:

• The child’s level of anxiety

• The time and activity at the moment of meltdown

• If the child is comfortable to the therapy

So, how does deep touch pressure calm down an anxious individual? Deep touch pressure triggers the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) to release endorphins or happy hormones. The happy hormones are the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. More to helping a person feel better, they also improve one’s mood and focus. 

Opposite to its effect in the PSNS, DTP also lowers the activity of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The result is a decreased heart rate and blood pressure, which usually increases in times of stress.

One common situation where DTP is useful is when an autistic child feels stressed because of overstimulation from the lights, colors, and sounds in a particular area. It usually happens when the child is in a public space like a shopping mall, or in a confined area with other children like in a classroom. 

However, the calming effects of deep touch pressure take time to set in. It may take a few minutes to several hours for a child to completely calm down. Fortunately, when a child starts to feel safe during the therapy, he will begin to calm and stop crying. After some time, the child should be able to continue with the rest of his activities for the day. Study shows that the effects of deep touch pressure has mainly improved sleeping time and aided in calming anxiety. Deep touch pressure has essentially been suggested by countless therapists.

If parents are interested to try deep pressure therapy, they may have a consultation and training with licensed occupational therapists. Occupational therapists are trained to provide treatment to children and adults with sensory processing disorders, like autism. They can also teach how to effectively use touch and therapeutic products to help calm their child. Most of them use approaches that will vary depending on the situation. The adapt ideal and practical course of treatment to address your child’s needs.

Final Thought

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Deep touch pressure helps improve the lives of people with autism have more control of their lives by making them able to handle stress and outside impulses. It will not cure their condition definitely, but it helps individuals and families to keep a calm environment for them and their child.

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Article Author Details

Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is a writer and a health and fitness enthusiast. She is interested in writing guidelines for health and wellness products. She is currently working on products that help people to improve sleep and calmness like weighted blankets and vests. Her latest work is about how to choose the best weighted blanket cover.