Deep pressure for autistic children
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How and when to use deep pressure

For some autistic children who may be on the cusp of a meltdown or shutdown, a reassuring touch from a parent or loved one can make a difference.

There is a form of therapy used by parents and therapists alike known as ‘deep pressure’. It can be applied in many different ways, but what is it and why can it have such a positive effect on autistic kids and adults like? In this blog post, we take a closer look at deep pressure, revealing ways in which you, as a parent, can apply it.

What is it?

Deep pressure is a therapy where touch or weight is used to help people who have sensory sensitivity. It uses pressure via touch to help someone who may need an intervention if they’re feeling stressed, anxious or overloaded. The therapy can be used on its own, or as part of a wider range of therapies.

For some autistic individuals, deep pressure can be calming. It can help the person balance their proprioceptive sense – this is the sense that helps a person work out where they are in space.

It can be applied in two ways:

  • Through touching someone by hugging or squeezing them
  • By letting someone wear a weighted item of clothing, such as a vest

There are many scenarios where deep pressure can be used to help an autistic child feel better. Although it depends on the time of day, how bad they are feeling and whether or not they’re comfortable with each kind of therapy, but knowing when and where it should be used is important.

One such scenario is when your child is feeling overloaded because there is too much sensory stimuli around. Using a classroom as an example, the lights might be too bright, there may be too many colours or images on the walls and background noise could be at its loudest. All this can lead to sensory overload, which is where deep pressure comes in.

Deep pressure could also come into its own in other scenarios, such as:

  • When sensory overstimulation comes from a single source
  • If someone is feeling anxious about an upcoming event e.g. sports day at school
  • When your child is feeling isolated and trying to exert deep pressure on themselves
How it’s done

For your child, one of the simplest ways of applying deep pressure therapy is by giving them a hug. It doesn’t have to be too tight, but exerting a little pressure when embracing your son or daughter in their hour of need can make a big difference.

Another, less challenging means of applying deep pressure is by placing your hands on your child’s shoulders. This can be done with even a feather-light touch, but is ideal if your child isn’t too fond of being hugged or squeezed.

One of the most intense ways of using deep pressure via touch is massage. This can be done in many different ways, using techniques such as Reiki, but can take a while to do in order to help your child feel okay again. There are tools you can use to help massage them, including body rollers, but they can be on the pricey side.

Hands-free support

For those autistic people who don’t like to be touched, there are other ways of using deep pressure therapy. One of them is to use weighted items of clothing, such as vests and jackets. Research done about the use of weighted vests found that it helped autistic children to improve their balance.

If weighted vests are a little too heavy and don’t do the job, there is a similar alternative. Pressure vests, also known as compression vests, are items of clothing which apply a small amount of pressure around the body, creating a similar effect to a hug without the touching element. They are made from tight, stretchable material like neoprene.

When they need to be left alone to destress, some autistic children can also experience deep pressure through wrapping themselves in a weighted blanket. As is sometimes the case with body rollers, some weighted blankets can be expensive, costing several hundred pounds each. They can help to keep your son or daughter grounded without being too intense.

After it’s used

The effects of deep pressure may not appear straight away. To apply it, through touch or otherwise, it can take a while, from a few minutes to a few hours. Fortunately, once it registers with your child, they begin to feel a little calmer. Eventually, they should feel ready to get on with the rest of their day.

Having something to keep them in place can eventually help to restore some order in an autistic child’s life. They will feel as though everything will be under control with a little pressure to help offer some reassurance.

However you apply it, using this technique could make a big difference during meltdowns or when sensory overload reaches its peak. It can be adjusted if you don’t get it right straight away. Deep pressure can be pretty easy to do after a little practice.