The importance of weighted blankets in physical therapy and in the management of several mental health issues has increased over the years. This is probably because health practitioners in the field of mental health have seen the numerous benefits.
These professionals are constantly testing weighted blankets in a range of disorders and have found that it alleviates the symptoms common to many mental health conditions. Some of these symptoms include anxiety, depression and lack of good sleep.
This has increased the attention being paid to them as a medical device and many companies have started to produce and supply weighted blankets while introducing their own stylistic elements. Some manufacturers even allow for the user’s input in the manufacturing process.
This article will deal with how weighted blankets can potentially help people with Asperger’s Syndrome. This is one of the numerous benefits of weighted blankets which work by stimulating the deep pressure touch receptors and promoting the release of endorphins and serotonin.
What is Asperger’s Syndrome?
Asperger syndrome which is also called Asperger’s or Asperger disorder (AD) is a condition in the Autism spectrum of disorders that has to do with the limited development of social and non-verbal communication skills as well as a set of repetitive behaviors and limited interests.
Signs that a child might have Asperger’s usually begins before the child’s second birthday. The disorder usually spans a lifetime. It is estimated that over 37 million people worldwide have Asperger’s and that males are more likely than females to have it.
The cause of Asperger’s is still not known. It is, however, generally believed that there is a genetic link.
Doctors and psychologists say a child has Asperger’s after seeing a certain number of symptoms the child exhibits. These symptoms could be behavioral, muscular or mood-related.
Some of the behavioral symptoms that can be seen in people with Asperger disorder include aggression, fidgety behavior, compulsive actions, repetitive actions and movements, social awkwardness or a preference for social isolation and repetitive use of words.
People that have Asperger disorder could also suffer from muscular symptoms. The most common of this is a difficulty in the coordination of muscular movements. They could also have the occasional tic.
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Another set of symptoms associated with Asperger disorder include mood-related symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and anger that the person suffering from it feels from time to time.
Other symptoms that are not in the three groups we’ve mentioned include learning disability, increased number of nightmares, high interest in few things and hypersensitivity to sound. These manifestations are, however, less common than other symptoms.
There is no definitive treatment for Asperger’s but the symptoms are managed to greatly improve the quality of life of the person suffering from the condition.
We’ll get back to the management options in Asperger disorder soon and discuss, specifically, the role of weighted blankets as part of the tools in the management of the condition.
What’s it like to live with Asperger’s?
How do people with Asperger’s feel about their condition? How does it affect their daily life? What is it like to live with the condition? The answers to these questions can only be reliably gotten from people who actually have the condition.
The answers they give vary quite widely and can be considered individually to each person. Some people with Asperger disorder (Aspies) feel quite normal and claim not to be really hampered except a bit of social awkwardness.
You won’t catch them in social conversations and don’t have many friends but they are fine anyway. This group suggests that Asperger’s should not be seen as a disease or a disorder but it should be seen rather as a difference.
Some Aspies, however, report that their day-to-day activities are disturbed by their behavioral symptoms. For example, when given a step-by-step task, an Aspie may find himself going over a single one of those steps over and over again.
Some also say it affects their learning ability. While Aspies have the same tendencies as everyone to learn, they may become interested in a very narrow spectrum of things.
This lack of interest in other things makes it hard for them to study towards some exams, for example, because they are too busy rereading something they have an intense interest in.
This could also make them ‘zone out’ in class when the teacher teaching something in their narrow range of interests.
The most common complaint is that of social awkwardness. Many Aspies say they don’t have many friends because of their limited understanding of social situations.
This is because they tend to be extremely logical and approach every situation with impeccable logic. This makes sarcasm and casual jokes hard for them to come to terms with.
This social awkwardness is what, in most cases, leads to anxiety, depression and other mood-related symptoms. This could lead to Aspies taking to the abuse of drugs and alcohol in order to help them ease into social scenarios. This is a dangerous coping mechanism and should be discouraged.
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However, living with Asperger’s allows people the ability to study and understand a very specialized subject or set of facts easily.
Picking up skillsets also come easily to them. While Aspies may not be so good in some situations, they excel greatly in what they are interested in.
The management of Asperger’s helps reduce the negative symptoms while helping the good side. We will now look at the management options available for people with Asperger disorder.
How Asperger’s is managed
The management of Asperger’s usually focuses on improving social and communication skills as well as treating the fallouts of the lack of these. We have itemized some of these fallouts to be depression, anxiety, insomnia and the whole lot.
Many specialists are involved in the management of people with Asperger disorder. It is, however, not necessary all of them work with the individual. Each person with Asperger disorder is unique and may require the expertise of one, two or more of these specialists.
Speech and occupational therapists, clinical psychologists, neurologists, and psychiatrists usually have a role to play in the management of Asperger disorder.
Speech therapists work with Asperger disorder patients who have limited speech ability and help to get them to continually improve their conversational skills.
Occupational therapists work with patients to learn what skills they have and how they can apply their skillsets to viable occupations.
Psychiatrists and neurologists
Psychiatrists and neurologists work to establish a diagnosis of Asperger disorder and manage with drug therapy such as anti-anxiety meds the fall outs of Asperger disorder.
Clinical psychologists discuss extensively with the individual and administer questionnaires that help uncover deep behavioral problems and address the worries and concerns of the patient through talk therapy.
Occupational Therapists (OTs)
Occupational therapists are an important class of specialists that deal with both physical and mental illnesses.
The therapy they prescribe might include the use of support groups so that people with this same condition can come together to discuss their challenges, suggest what worked in their cases to people undergoing specific troubles and forming meaningful friendships.
Anger management therapy is also very important. People with AD could have outbursts during emotional breakdowns. Anger management lessons could play a role in limiting these episodes.
Education about the condition is also very important for people with Asperger’s. The more educated they are about the condition, the better they can manage it to optimum results. They also become more in touch with their feelings and emotions and understand them as different from the average person.
Family therapy is another critical component of Asperger’s care. The family must be fully involved in the care, educated about the condition and coached on ways to adapt the home front to be comfortable for the individual with Asperger’s.
Notwithstanding therapy prescribed by OTs, the individual suffering from Asperger’s also has a role to play in the care for and preservation of his own mental health. This is important so that he doesn’t slip into depression or anxiety disorders or any of the earlier mentioned fallouts.
Meditation, mindfulness, exercise, and avoidance of drugs and alcohol could help in this regard. Another aspect of therapy also comes in here; physical therapy. It is especially in self-care by physical therapy that weighted blankets have an important role to play.
Deep Touch Pressure therapy using weighted blankets
Weighted blankets are just like your everyday blankets except with weights in them. These blankets are not just constructed mindlessly. They are products of years of research and continuous iterative improvement.
They have been found to be useful in several mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, night terrors, sensory processing disorder, and fibromyalgia and so on.
How do weighted blankets work?
Weighted blankets are designed to weigh down the user and by so doing stimulate the body’s deep pressure touch (DPT) zones. This will, in turn, lead to the secretion of the body’s endorphins and serotonin.
“Endorphin” is gotten from a combination of two words; endo- (which means something endogenous or made in your body) and -orphin (from morphine, which we know is a very potent analgesic). So, you can think of endorphins as the body’s internal morphine.
Serotonin is another important hormone. It has been called the body’s happy hormone. The drugs that are most prescribed for depression nowadays work by reducing the amount of serotonin your body degrades.
At night, serotonin is converted to melatonin. Melatonin is what helps us sleep easily at night.
By increasing the secretion of those two (endorphins and serotonin), weighted blankets help users attain a sense of bodily calm and better restful sleep.
Another hormone we must consider is cortisol. Cortisol is the hormone that goes up when you’re stressed or sick. Weighted blankets also work by reducing the secretion of this hormone. Cortisol is also responsible for waking you up from sleep. So, those times when you are so stressed and still wake up early, cortisol is the culprit.
By reducing cortisol secretion, weighted blankets reduce your stress levels and allow for longer and deeper sleep.
How does this apply to Asperger’s?
As we have seen earlier, managing Asperger’s is not a task that can be accomplished by a single method or a single specialist. The specialists must come together with the family and even with the person with the condition to help improve the condition.
We briefly mentioned the role of self-care. This is very important. The social awkwardness in Asperger’s can lead to other issues such as anxiety, depression and a feeling of loneliness.
Weighted blankets are perfect for preventing you or your loved one from slipping into anxiety or depression by releasing endorphins and serotonin.
At night, when your brain might go into overdrive or repetitively go over details of the day almost obsessively, weighted blankets help you fall into a deep and long sleep that makes you wake well rested.
In social scenarios, such as sleep-ins at a friend’s place, a weighted blanket swaddled around you can help reduce your social anxiety and allow you easily blend into the social circle.
Choosing the right weighted blanket for Asperger’s
Choosing the right weighted blanket is quite important. There are many factors that should be considered in choosing one.
Firstly, the weight of the blanket must be right. Occupational therapists recommend that the weight for your weighted blanket is about 10% of your ideal weight.
Your ideal weight does not refer to your actual weight. Your ideal weight is your expected weight based on your biometric parameters such as sex, height and so on. There are tools available to calculate your ideal weight.
Another important consideration is the weighted blanket fabric. There are different choices you can make for the material of the blanket.
Choices available to you include Cotton (pure cotton and cotton blends), Mink, Polyester, Rayon-cotton blend, and Fleece to name a few.
You must take note of the material and select materials you are not allergic to. Some children might also like brightly colored blankets or blankets that have their favorite cartoon characters on them. This is not a problem and could endear the child to her weighted blanket.
The size of the weighted blanket is also another consideration. The weighted blanket must be big enough to swaddle you or your loved one in a sitting or lying position.
The small-sized blanket is usually around 38 inches x 50 inches and this is suitable for children. Adults have to choose between 38 inches x 60 inches and 42 inches x 72 inches which are the medium and large sized blankets respectively.
While weighted blankets are not the only component of care in Asperger’s syndrome, they are still very important.
Many users of weighted blankets become particularly attached to them because of the relief and calm they get when swaddled in them. They are designed to simulate a hug from a loved one.
Weighted blankets can help deal with anxiety, stress, depression, and insomnia that are common symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome.
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