Hugs… More than Just a Nice Gesture

After a nice big bear-hug, don’t you just feel a sense of calm and happiness?

Sometimes a hug from a family member, close friend, or coworker is what we need to get through the day. Hugs involve human touch as well as a deep pressure that causes our body to react chemically. Oftentimes these hugs work for our children also. But what about our friends with autism who tend to avoid close contact and affection with other people? The truth is they benefit from this deep muscular pressure also, possibly even more than you might think.

Children with autism experience multiple sensory-related issues that we are not used to in our own daily lives, including: hypersensitivity or under-sensitivity to noise, smells, lights, crowds, touch, and much more. While these children typically receive therapies, such as physical and occupational, sensory integration therapy is also being used to help children with autism. This type of therapy seeks to regulate a child’s sensory responses. Results of sensory integration techniques and similar activities involve lower anxiety levels, more focused attention, and even improved behavior.

A great example of sensory integration therapy is the use of weighted vests, or sensory-pressure vests. The way these vests work is essentially representative of a hug, a hug that is constant throughout the use of the vest. Children wear these vests, jackets, belts, or blankets during daily activities, such as playing, learning, eating, or sometimes during rest. The idea is that the pressure unconsciously relieves muscles and joints and allows the child to be more focused and calm.

We use the same idea with our newborn babies when we swaddle them; the pressure gives them a sense of comfort. These techniques have been used not only for children with autism, but also children with ADHD, other sensory integration disorders, as well as many other neurological disorders; the possibilities seems to be endless with this type of therapy.

Similar therapy techniques have also been used with adults who easily get distracted, are hyperactive, or have trouble with their concentration skills. People with Cerebral Palsy and Muscular Dystrophy also benefit from this weight-therapy.

Sensory integration and weight-therapy is so effective that it has also been said to benefit our furry friends. I recently watched a commercial which suggested that dogs benefit from a weighted vest in certain troublesome areas, such as: loud noises, separation anxiety, travel anxiety, crate training, problems barking, and hyperactivity. After further investigation on this product, the underlying principle is the same as what we use with sensory integration therapy. It works with everyone!

So the next time you see a friend looking upset or anxious, give them a nice bear-hug to help them relieve some of their stress!

Katie Zink, Infant-Toddler Family Specialist


Katie Zink is a graduate of Catawba College and serves as a CBRS therapist for Partners In Learning. Prior to her role as a therapist, Katie served as a teacher beginning in 2009.  Working with children is her life’s passion.


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