What Trauma Victims Can Learn From This Autism Therapy


April 2 is World Autism Day, and if you didn’t already know, Kim Barthel has had an expansive career that began in occupational therapy and she has worked all over the world with people with Autism.

One of the successful methods of therapy for Autism patients, is utilizing deep pressure. Simply put, deep pressure touch releases serotonin in the body, the calming chemical that helps ease depression and anxiety in the body (among other wonderful things). Kim Barthel explains the benefits of this technique in ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’:

“In my profession of occupational therapy, we have a saying whenever we want to help a client stay calm and regulated: ‘when you don’t know what to do, use deep pressure’. It’s so easy and effective. We wrap people up in sheets of Lycra, use weighted blankets have them wear fitted Lycra clothing, or, when they tolerate it, give them a deep pressure massage. It makes people feel connected to themselves and relaxed.” — Kim Barthel 

One of the leaders in advocating for this type of therapy is Temple Grandin, whose research on deep pressure with Autism has largely been cited as a success story.

Behavioral results indicated a significant reduction in tension and a marginally significant reduction in anxiety for children who received the deep pressure compared with the children who did not. These preliminary findings support the hypothesis that deep pressure may have a calming effect for persons with autism, especially those with high levels of arousal or anxiety. [US National Library of MedicineNational Institutes of Health

So what does this have to do with trauma?

When we are feeling anxious or triggered, there are many ways in which we can calm ourselves down, we call these self-soothing techniques. Breathing slowly, yawning or touching our face are just a few of the simple ways in which humans self-soothe to regulate, as described in ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’. Applying deep pressure works in this same way for trauma survivors, as well as people with ADD or anxiety disorders.

Both people with Autism or those who have been through trauma can be sensitive to touch, and deep pressure requires some caution, so it’s best to learn the techniques of applying deep pressure to yourself. However, there are many ways you can use this technique to self-regulate or self-soothe:

  • Weighted blankets or weighted clothing
  • Swinging in a hammock
  • Walking with weights
  • Sitting on your hands
  • Giving yourself a hug
  • Having someone hug you
  • Wrapping yourself in Lycra clothing or sheets
  • Getting a massage

Anything you can do to apply pressure to your body, will help you feel the effects of that serotonin working!

If you’re looking for more guidance on trauma and this topic, we post more resources every week on our blog, and continue the conversation with us on Facebook and Twitter.

— Written by Amber Craig

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