A weighted blanket is a sensory tool that is used to help calm or comfort children with autism, in addition to reducing sleep problems and anxiety. Let’s dive in to learn more about the benefits of weighted blankets and how to choose one for your autistic child.
What Are Weighted Blankets?
A weighted or gravity blanket contains an evenly distributed weight that makes it heavier than a regular blanket. The pressure from the extra weight has similar effects to that of a therapeutic technique known as deep pressure stimulation (DPS) and provides a sense of relaxation and security.
How much do they weigh?
Weighted blankets can weigh anywhere from 5 pounds for children to 30 pounds for adults. The general rule, you should choose a blanket that is approximately 10% of your body weight.
How do they work?
Weighted blankets apply gentle pressure on your body, which increases the amount of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. These “feel good” chemicals help relax the nervous system, increasing the feeling of calm and well-being.
Read on to find out how weighted blankets can benefit children with autism spectrum disorder.
Are Weighted Blankets Good for Children with Autism?
Many children with autism struggle with sensory issues and experience difficulties when it comes to tactile sensory input. Signs of tactile sensitivity in your child may include:
- Withdrawing from touch
- Refusing to wear clothing made of certain fabrics
- Eating only foods with certain textures, for example, smooth and pureed foods
- Avoiding getting their hands dirty
- Touching things only with fingertips in order to minimize contact.
The deep pressure that weighted blankets provide has a calming effect on the nervous system in children who are sensitive to touch, while at the same time, they fulfill the children’s sensory needs.
Furthermore, sensory and other issues can create anxiety and sleep problems in children on the spectrum. Deep pressure touch has been shown to stimulate the release of serotonin, which may help your child sleep more soundly. Weighted blankets are thought to improve both the ability to fall asleep, sleep throughout the night, relax during the day, and the ease of waking up.
Are Weighted Blankets Effective?
Studies that focus on the effects of weighted blankets on sleep and anxiety in children with autism are limited. Most researchers rely on the results of a study from 1999 that explores the benefits of deep pressure stimulation using Temple Grandin’s Hug Machine.
Although more research is needed, results have so far indicated that weighted blankets are beneficial for:
- Reducing overall anxiety
- Decreasing the amount of stress hormones in the body
- Improving sleep quality
- Creating calming effect on the nervous system
- Lowering sensitivity to touch
- Improving focus
- Producing a sense of calm that can last for up to several hours
- Increasing the feeling of security
- Reducing meltdowns due to sensory overload
- Decreasing self-injurious behavior
- Enhancing social interactions.
Here’s how you can know your child is ready to use a weighted blanket.
Signs That Your Child with Autism Will Enjoy a Weighted Blanket
There are a few signs that may suggest your child will benefit from using a weighted blanket. You may want to consider using a weighted blanket if your child:
- Seeks out deep pressure or enjoys being hugged tightly
- Enjoys contact, for example, cuddling with a pet
- Struggles with sleep
- Has trouble staying calm
- Experiences sensitivities to touch or certain textures
- Likes to use multiple blankets at the same time
- Prefers to wear heavy clothes or layers.
Now that we have seen what weighted blankets are and how they can benefit your child, let’s discuss what you need to keep in mind before you purchase one.
How to Use Weighted Blankets
When buying a weighted blanket, it is essential to take into account the following factors:
- The blanket should be roughly 10% of your child’s weight, plus an additional 1-2 lbs.
- Your child should be able to remove the blanket without assistance.
- A blanket used for sleeping should cover the child’s feet, legs, and abdomen for maximum comfort. For daytime use, you can opt for a smaller blanket.
- Make sure to take into account the size of your child’s bed and accommodate for growth.
- Children are more likely to use a weighted blanket if it features a design they like. Ask for your child’s opinion and go for their preferred colors and patterns.
Depending on your child’s sensitivity, it is also important to consider the kind of textures they may be reactive to. For example, the waterproof material of some weighted blankets may be triggering to a child with autism. In this case, you can use a removable cover made of a fabric that fits your child’s sensory needs.
Finally, as with any new sensory tool, it’s crucial to monitor your child’s response to the weighted blanket and make adjustments if necessary. A healthcare professional can help you determine what type of blanket is the most suitable for your child.
Who should not use a weighted blanket?
Each child’s sensory needs are unique, and not everyone will benefit from using a weighted blanket. You should always consult with your child’s healthcare provider and consider your child’s specific needs before introducing a weighted blanket.
Furthermore, you should not use a weighted blanket if your child experiences one of the following:
- Respiratory problems, such as asthma
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Low blood pressure
You should also avoid using a weighted blanket in very young children, as it may increase the chances of suffocation.
The best weighted blankets for children
Weighted blankets come in a variety of fabrics, colors, and sizes. They can be filled with micro glass beads, plastic pellets, and other materials that help apply consistent pressure to the body. Most are made of soft materials, such as cotton, mink, chenille, or fleece, for additional comfort. Blankets made of antimicrobial, waterproof, and cooling fabrics are also available.
Here’s our pick of the best weighted blankets for children with autism.
Mosaic carries a full line of weighted blankets for all ages, from toddlers to teens and young adults. They come in a range of fun patterns, colors, sizes, and materials. Prices start at around $80.
Gravity offers several different types of weighted blankets, including flannel, chunky knit, and travel blankets. All blankets are machine washable. Prices start at around $195.
SensaCalm sells premade as well as custom weighted blankets filled with hypoallergenic, non-toxic glass beads. The collection includes an all-weather weighted blanket featuring super soft fleece on one side for the winter months. Prices start from $100.
Harkla carries soft weighted blankets and lap pads designed specifically for children with autism and sensory issues. Blankets are made of soft minky fabric and are available in several different colors. Removable covers make them easy to wash. Prices start at $85.
Weighted blankets are a great sensory tool for children on the autism spectrum. The deep pressure sensation provided by the blanket can help promote relaxation, improve sleep, and reduce anxiety. With careful consideration, a weighted blanket may be beneficial for promoting sensory regulation and improving the overall well-being of your child with autism.
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