Tips To Help Calm Anxiety in Kids and Adults with Autism

As a parent, teacher or carer of a child with Autism I expect that you have have spent lot’s of time trying to get to the bottom of the triggers that cause stressful and anxious responses.

To understand anxiety in autism we need to look at the sensory system and how sensory overload may be affecting behaviour and the regulating of emotions.

Anxiet, Sensory Processing AND Sensory Overload

How much sensory information it takes to cause upset differs with every child.  Some children over respond to sensory information and some children under respond.

When a child feels overwhelmed….we expect the meltdown….a result of sensory over stimulation.  There is just too much information to process….it’s extremely upsetting.

“Because many children with autism are unable to self-regulate, sensory overload can result in sensory-based meltdowns.”

It is said that 75% of children with autism have sensory processing disorder.

Anxiety and “Fight or Flight” Responses

In times of anxiety and stress, our hormones trigger  a “fight or flight response.”

When people with autism experience sensory over stimulation, they are unable to regulate the sensory inputs from their environment and their bodies perceive these inputs as threats.

A meltdown is a physiological response and not controllable behaviour .

How can we expect a calm response to sensory situations when your body is perceiving those situations as threats.

Tips to Reduce Anxiety for Autistic Children

1) New Forms of Communication

Visual activity timetables, now & next task schedules and a schedule strip  will be helpful in communicating to your child what is planned, and what the expectations will be.

Social stories that walk a child through the plan, from beginning to end, will prevent sudden events and a sense of control that may reduce anxiety

2) Creating a Sensory Diet Plan

Routine sensory diet activities are important to support regulation across the day. Some parents find it helpful to schedule “quiet time” for their child, in order to allow for the downtime proactively before the activity of the day gets to be too much.

3) Deep Touch Pressure

Add deep touch pressure into your child’s day whether it be through a weighted scarf or vest, compression garments, weighted blankets on his bed, or weighted lap pads  in the classroom.

The weight and feeling of being grounded has positive effects on reducing anxiety.

4) Know your child’s signs of distress

Nobody knows your child better than you.  Signs of distress can be nonverbal indicators that your child is quickly becoming anxious or overstimulated and needs your help regulating before reaching the point of meltdown.

For example when things get too much for my little 8 year old nice in the school playground she would remove her shoes and socks.  Telling her off for this behaviour was a disaster rather than recognising that she was experiencing sensory overload.

5) Create a Safe Sensory Space

Create a safe space to calm down and have some quiet time.  Quiet areas change the amount of sensory input the child is exposed to. This can be very helpful in situations where sensory overload contributes to anxiety.

6) Create a Sensory BAG

Create a sensory bag that you know will  reduce sensory sensitivities and improve tolerance to stressful unavoidable situations.

7) Find tool that can help communication

Consult your speech therapist or teacher on what  may support your child’s communication of needs, wants, or emotions. This could be as simple as a visual communication board.

8) Try Self CaLM Down Techniques

If your child is able, calm down techniques such  as slowly counting to ten, deep breathing, stretching, meditation, or visualization techniques.

9) Always have a Fidget Toy on Hand

Explore redirecting any potentially harmful behaviors through the use of fidgets when you sense anxiety.

Weighted Blankets and Special Education…

Weighted blankets, weighted shoulder wraps and weighted lap pads ought to be a staple in both mainstream and special education classrooms.  They are often used in a “quiet room” where a young person can relax from being anxious or stressed.

Often whilst working students will use a weighted lap pad or neck wrap to keep their anxiety down.  The blanket calms them down so that they can focus and do their work.  Teachers actually report that students seek them when things start to overwhelm them.

One teacher said – “Weighted blankets are a fantastic way to calm an anxious or jumpy child.  Not only does it calm them, they are more productive and are able to focus for longer intervals.”

Another teacher – “I am a special education teacher and I know so many children who would benefit from these.  They are so much less stigmatizing than some of the weighted vests on the market that scream……look at me…..there’s something wrong…..again, I love mine.”

and a 3rd – I have them use it when they are overloaded, or in conflict with another kid, or simply frustrated.  I have them use it in any situation where a hug would help, but they don’t want touch.  The blankets provide a long term hug.  They use it when they need to get settled.

Are weighted resources on hand for your child to use in class?

How much difference might they make to your child’s learning experience?

Weighted Blankets and Mental Health…

Weighted blankets are being used in mental health units so that patients can soothe themselves.

A patient with bipolar 1 disorder, anxiety, ADHA, and dyslexia was taught about deep pressure tough strategies to alleviate severe symptoms of sensory over overload and anxiety.

Mental health units using weighted blankets saw a big decline in the use of seclusion and restraint as well as safety sitters.  The primary job of a safety sitter is to keep a patient safe…preventing, self harm, overdosing and suicide.

The reports are that people who used the blankets felt calmer, more grounded, safe and secure.  They also felt more centered, had improved concentration and deceased stress and anxiety.

Many people reported that the weighted blanket worked miracles.

One sensory specialist in this area said:” I have observed that the deep pressure is helpful for patients.  They start to relax, they make increased eye contact and where there was rapid speech…the speech slows down.  They have a general look of physical pain relief.”

Patients report that they have a feeling of being given a big hug.  They also feel less agitated and calmer.  Many patients are receptive to using weighted blankets because they wish to try  different sensory interventions.  After people get to try sensory methods they tend to know what they need..such as a fidget…headphones or a weighted blanket.

Practitioners are constantly seeking ways of funding the blankets so that patients have more resources.

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/bslforkids

Weighted Blankets for Alzheimer’s and Dementia…

There has been lots of study in the US regarding the use of weighted blankets in care homes.

They report that they have stopped using alarms for people that wander because it startles them.  They wanted to find something to give their residents comfort and after a number of trials weighted blankets were found to be very effective.

If the residents were restless or appeared to be afraid, a small blanket is draped over their shoulders so that they feel like someone is there with them.  They appear to be more calm, and it seems like they are more content and not as restless and anxious.

One particular care home has come away from using restraints to stop residents from falling out of chairs and are now using weighted blankets which gives them a nice pressure and comforts them so that they are less likely to get up and fall.

If they have a hard time getting to sleep…weighted blanket make them feel like someone is hugging them.

II asked a family member who works in a very expensive private dementia care home chain here in the UK if they use weighted lap pads, weighted blanket and weighted shoulder wraps to give comfort to the residents.

I felt very sad to find out that they are not used.

We set up a Just Giving Site to help us be able to gift some of our resources and promote the benefits.

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/bslforkids

Weights Lap Pad Blankets for Anxiety…

Overview

Research has shown that Weighted Lap Pads, Weighted Blankets and Weights shoulder wraps can help reduce reduce symptoms and manage conditions for many people who have disorders such as anxiety, insomnia, or autism, weighted blankets may provide a safe alternative to medication or other types of treatment.

Caregivers and professionals in the autism community have a great awareness of their benefits including feeling more secure, improving feeling body awareness, reducing anxiety, and improving sleep.

What are the benefits of a weighted blanket for anxiety?

Weighted blankets can help reduce anxiety in both children and adults. They are safe to use as long as you understand some basic rules.  Autism can be stressful because we encounter situations where we don’t have the skills or brain type to handle them.

This can cause anxiety, anger, sadness or other extreme emotions.  Sometimes it’s simply a change of routine that can cause an extreme out of control feeling.

With sensory processing disorder, sensory messages are not processed in the usual way by the brain.  Other people may focus on one sound and not notice anything else but for a person with Sensory Processing Disorder, all the sensory signals come in which creates an overload and can make you feel like screaming or running away.  At the very least it makes you feel very frustrated because people don’t tend to understand how sensory overload feels.

according to statistics it is common for those with Autism to be under-responsive, needing more stimuli to achieve regulation of the body.

The opposite is also true.  Some people with Autism may be over-responsive or require a calm a calm environment to function optimally.

Weighted blankets help ground your body during sleep because of the feeling of weight or pressure. This process, known as “grounding,”  and may have a deeply calming effect.  People who meditate or work with crystals often talk about grounding themselves to help them feel connected and centered.

The blankets also simulate deep pressure touch (DPT), a type of therapy that uses firm, hands-on pressure to reduce chronic stress and high levels of anxiety.

Studies show that grounding may help reduce nighttime levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.

Cortisol is produced when your brain thinks you’re under attack, eliciting the fight or flight response. Stress can escalate cortisol levels.

This can have a negative impact upon the immune system. It can also increase blood sugar levels and adversely affect the digestive tract.

Elevated cortisol levels, especially those that don’t drop back down to normal levels naturally, can cause multiple complications. These include:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • insomnia
  • weight gain

By providing deep pressure touch, weighted blankets can promote relaxation and help break this cycle. This may trigger the release of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, which are feel-good hormones produced in the brain. These hormones help combat stress, anxiety, and depression.

Weighted blankets are increasingly being used in mental health units so that patients can soothe themselves.

 

What are weighted blankets used for?

The 2008 study on the effects of weighted blankets used with adults found that a high percentage of  people said they had decreased anxiety and felt more relaxed.

Following this study a survey was conducted of over 300 occupational therapists.  The outcome was that weighted blankets helped to improve conditions for people dealing with the following:

  1. Sensory processing disorder (SPD)
  2. Autism
  3. Stress and anxiety
  4. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  5. Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
  6. Chronic Pain
  7. Major mental illness
  8. Insomnia
  9. Restless legs syndrome (RLS)
  10. Alzheimer’s and dementia
  11. Chemotherapy
  12. Post-surgery
  13. Motor agitation
  14. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  15. Cerebral palsy
  16. Substance and Alcohol detoxing
  17. Rett syndrome
  18. Multiple sclerosis
  19. Apraxia
  20. Fibromyalgia

Weighted blanket help people to different degrees.  The first time that I tried a weighted blanket I felt the results straight away. I felt like my muscles were melting.  It made me feel calm,very relaxed and sleepy.  My anxiety started to go down and I could feel my brain slow down from mental chatter.  It was a lovely safe feeling.

Weighted blankets are so effective that a growing number of hospitals and schools are using them.  I will try to shed a little light on how they work in condition specific posts.

 

Welcome to BSL for Kids…

Being a parent to a special-needs child takes a unique kind of knowledge, courage, dedication and flexibility.  There is no right way to do things…your child is totally unique. Is there an expert who can tell you exactly what is best for your child both now and in the future?

You’ll learn by trying new things, seeing what works and of course what doesn’t work and hopefully you are in a position to gather all the support and resources that you need.

Your role as a parent is unique and complex, just as your child is.  We design and create resources for people on the Autistic Spectrum because we believe that with the right kind of support they can succeed at home, at school, and in their communities.

We want them to enjoy life, set goals within their reach, make friends, keep friends, grow, learn, achieve and know who they are, and feel a sense of belonging in the world.

I believe that people with autism spectrum disorders can have rich, fulfilling lives…if they are shown the way.

I speak with passion because I speak from the spectrum.  I have first hand experience with being different and having my own unique experience of the world.  The products that I design are a little different from the industry standard.

To me being different as an adult is positive and having special needs is nurturing.  One of my favourite things to do is sew….I like to make patterned quilts using fabrics with a range of colour and texture.  My issue was keeping my mind on what I was doing.   Unfortunatley  when my mind wandered off so did my straight lines.

Emmm..what to do?  So I decided to make myself a weighted Lap pad.  This pad weighs a little more than 10% of my body weight and it’s my favourite thing.

It makes me feel relaxed, I feel centred and calm and somehow more focused…….and guess what….I can sew straight lines when I have it on my knee.

So of course I sell Weighted Lap Pads and Blankets.  I sew each and everyone myself and they make me smile. I design bags that are choice boards and communication books that are bags and giant visual timetables…..why….because it’s the difference that makes the different and everyone should have reasons to smile.

Anyway….that’s enough about me…..I hope that you are inspired by my products.

All the best,

Elly x

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