Autism is a developmental disorder that is quite complex. Although it is commonly characterized by speech impediments, repetitive behavior, tics, behavioral, and social skill challenges, it comes in many forms. This is the main reason why it is called the autism spectrum.
Every individual in the autism spectrum is different. In some people, it can manifest in a mild form, and they can lead a normal life. While on the other hand, in some, it can be severe and chronic, which can last a lifetime.
Irrespective of the intensity and severity of the disorder, a common trait exhibited by those with autism is low tolerance for strong external stimuli. This has led to a number of researches to be conducted since the early 60s.
Understanding sensory overload in autism.
Individuals with autism have a low threshold for sensory stimulation. They often notice sounds and things that others around them won’t even see. These stimulants can be in the form of sounds, objects, smell, and touch.
Very often, they will find some noise to be physically very painful and averse to human touch. They do not like textures and do not like wearing certain types of clothes. This hypersensitivity of sensory overload can sometimes make them feel oblivious to physical pain and injury.
Because of this reason, researches and experts began to find that sensory deprivation treatment can be an effective remedy for people with autism. A couple of independent studies were conducted in 1981 as well as 2013, which made positive conclusions about the effect of float therapy and autism.
How can float therapy benefit those with autism?
Flotation therapy is conducted in a device called float tanks or float pods. These float tanks are filled with clean and sterile water, that is heated to the exact temperature of the human’s body.
The tank is also filled with Epsom salts or magnesium sulfate which keeps the body afloat. The combination of the water and the high concentration of salt make the water extremely buoyant allowing the individuals to “float” on top of the water.
Float therapy is carried out in a chamber or float rooms, which are soundproof and have minimal to no light. This environment creates an ideal place for an autistic individual.
In a controlled environment, patients with autism have been known to experience:
- Decreased level of anxiety.
In a study which was conducted through the participation of a 24-year-old female with autism, she stated that there was a significant improvement in her anxiety. When she underwent float therapy, her depression decreased, which improved her quality of life.
Apparently, she loved the floating sessions so much that she continued flotation therapy after the study period was over. She is said to have quit smoking and did not require the medications as well.
- Increases relaxation.
When a person is stressed and anxious, external stimulation can aggravate it. Inside the float pods with no visual or auditory stimuli, the patient can find relaxation. Practitioners have been known to enter a deep meditative like state, which is said to be the ideal state for people with autism.
- Long-lasting results.
The results of a floating session which are enhanced relaxation and reduced anxiety have been known to last up to three days or 72 hours, which is quite impressive.
What to expect during the float therapy session?
The complexity of behaviors exhibited by those individuals with autism can make undergoing flotation therapy a challenge, especially for the first time. Notwithstanding the fact that it is extremely beneficial, autistic patients can feel claustrophobic. Fear and reluctance can be more prevalent in children but in adults as well.
Therefore, knowing what to expect before you go into the isolation tank can prepare you mentally.
When you take your first float, here is what you can expect from the treatment.
- You will be ushered into a dimly lit room while your float tank is prepared. Reassure your child or the patient that there is nothing to be scared and that you are there for them.
- Patients will be required to take a shower.
- Earplugs are a must, but you will also have the choice for a shower cap.
- The patients then enter the room where the tank is prepared and goes inside the isolation tank.
- Whenever the patient is ready, the lid is closed.
- A light switch, as well as an emergency switch, is on either side of the tank for immediate assistance.
- A typical float session can be anywhere between 90 minutes to a couple of hours.
- After the floating is over, the patients are required to shower again to get rid of the salt.
- Most clinics and spas also have a post-float room where patients can slowly regain their composure before getting exposed to the world.
Considering that autism and over-stimulation are antagonistic, it makes sense that sensory deprivation therapy is increasingly used in the treatment of autism. In fact, float therapy has been introduced as part of the syllabus of special education in some schools such as the Gersh Academy at Cougar Mountain in Washington.
As any expert in the field of autism spectrum will agree, early diagnosis and treatment can create an ideal environment for those living with autism.
Float therapy is widely accessible, has no downtime, and the results are long-lasting. When you have the option of having such a groundbreaking and treatment for you or your loved one with autism, why settle for anything else?