Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Update on Low Barometric Pressure and Autism

A couple of weeks ago, I questioned whether low barometric pressure affects kids with autism. My son had his worst day of school on the day that barometer readings in our area hit record low levels.

Since then, I did more research to see if there really was a correlation between the barometric pressure and my son’s performance at school. I found a website that gives the historical barometric levels for any zip code. I recorded the information and compared it to the scores that my son receives on his point-sheet at school every day.

The results were eye popping.

Over the last seven weeks, Kai has averaged ten points better (on a 100-point scale) on days where the barometer reading is 29.90 or above than on days when it is lower than 29.90. On days with high barometric pressure, he is averaging over 90 points, which means that he is pretty focused and behaving well much of the day. However, on the days with lower pressure, he is barely averaging 80 points, which means that he is losing a lot of points for things like not staying on task and not following directions, as well as more severe behavioral issues.

We will have to see if the trends hold up over a longer period of time, but I think it is clear that the possibility of a strong correlation exists.

So, what can we do about it?

If we know that the day could be challenging, we will try to give the school a heads up. Perhaps they can be especially proactive with giving Kai sensory breaks throughout the day. Also, we are still having him wear Under Armour compression shirts; on low pressure days, it may be worth trying a double layer to see if the extra pressure against his body makes up for the lower barometric pressure.

I don’t know if that will suffice. But being aware of a potential problem is the first step toward solving it. As always, I’m open to your ideas.


  1. That is absolutely fascinating! I am glad you got some concrete data and had his behavior charts to compare with. I wish I could remember how my boss explained it, because it made so much sense!

  2. Thanks, Molly. I was fortunate that my son's school assigns points every day so that I had an objective measure to go on. Hopefully, we can find a way to mitigate the low pressure days.

  3. Hi, I am a teacher and I can tell you the weather and air pressure affects most kids, and adults for that matter! :) I like your pressure clothing idea, deep pressure on the shoulders might help any kid who is having trouble on low pressure days.

  4. Thanks for confirming my observations with your experience!

  5. I teach children with severe autism. In the four years I have been teaching this population I have suspected a direct correlation between the fluctuations of barometric pressure and student behavior.
    This year I chose to do a research project on this very topic.
    I have recorded on monthly calendars since August of 2011, the daily barometric pressure and a + or - to indicate the level of compliance or disruption the student exhibited that day.
    I fear my criteria for behavior is too broad. I am curious how you chose your criteria for measurement of your son's behavior. Did you record what you observed over the course of the day, as I am doing, or narrow it down to one particular segment of instruction or task?
    I am beginning to doubt my hypothesis about barometric pressure and leaning towards studying the effect of lunar phases as well.

    1. That is very interesting that you have done research on this.

      My son attends a therapeutic school and they send home a "Point Sheet" every day. The Point Sheet measures 10 items including prepared to start, staying on task, respect for peers and adults, and so on. Each student can earn one point per period for each of the ten items, for a total of 100 points during a school day. This is the criteria I used.

      I think you will never see a perfect correlation as there are many things that can impact behavior. For instance, with my son, changes in medication have had great impact. But, since you have many more students as a sample, you have a better chance to confirm or reject the hypothesis. I think lunar phases may have an impact as well. Perhaps lunar phases in combination with barometric pressure will yield more correlation.

      Please write back with an update on your research! I am curious to know what you find.

  6. I just got done reading the March 13, 2012 article, "Space travel 'may damage eyesight', brain study shows," which described the smattering effects lack of gravity (read zero atmospheric pressure) had on Astronauts: muscle problems, pituitary gland problems, eye problems, etc. The effects seem scattered and disconnected. Autism effects on my son also seem scattered and disconnected - slow pupil dilation (he always has red eyes in photos), poor fine and motor gross skills, etc. (you know what I'm talking about).

    Then I was thinking about Temple Grandin's squeeze machine effect on her and how, when my family lays on top of my son (e.g., dog pile), he feels better with the extra pressure. He also says he feels more relaxed with he dives to the bottom of a swimming pool. I plan to take him scuba diving this summer to see how he feels with the extra pressure 60 feet below the surface.

    I really think that earth atmospheric pressure is fine for most people, but is not enough to regulate scattered and disconnected body functions for kids on the spectrum. The same seems true for Astronauts when they go to space - the decrease in atmospheric pressure for a month or more starts having a smattering of effects on the Astronauts. Bring the Astronauts back to earth and they feel better. Put a kid on the spectrum in a hug/squeeze machine or below a pool or ocean when scuba diving, and they feel better.

    Long story short, due to the above connections, may be we can get NASA to study the effects of low atmospheric pressure on Astronauts and kids on the spectrum.

    P.S., what is the URL for the website that gives the historical barometric levels for any zip code?

    1. My son is always asking for hugs and saying "crash on me" as, similar to your son, he loves the pressure. Very interesting how atmospheric pressure affects astronauts, and how that may be analogous to kids on the spectrum. Ha, I would love for NASA to study that.

      The website that gives historical barometric pressure for any zip code is
      They recently changed the layout of the page... after you enter the zip code and come to the local page, to find the current pressure, you have to scroll down a bit (right below the Current Data tab). To get the pressure for past days, scroll down much farther to "History & Almanac" and enter the date of interest.

    2. Thanks for the link. I used , entered our zip code, and then used the custom tab to produce a years barometric pressure graph. If the low pressures dates on the chart align with behavior episodes and the high pressure dates on the chart align with good days (or vice versa), I think we may be on to something. Unfortunately, we haven't kept track of good and bad days, but others might have kept track and can check this out.

      For our son, me, his mom and his sister lay on top of him at the same time in a stack as he lays face down on the ground (or bed where it's softer). That's about 350+ lbs. We do it for about 30 seconds or so. it looks like this -- (photo of someone on the internet, not us) -- but our son is on the bottom and everyone is facing downward. Our son asks for the dogpilet often and it really seems to calm him down when his emotions are out of control.

    3. Even if you haven't kept track before, it is something you can start now.

      My wife and I will sometimes lay on top of our son, but usually only one person at a time. The whole family dogpile looks fun! That is great that your son asks for it and that it helps him calm down.


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