While weighted blankets have benefits that work for a many number of disorders, like depression, anxiety, PTSD, and ADHD, this article focuses specifically on the benefits of weighted blankets for those with autism.
These benefits are seen whether the user is an autistic child, adult, or toddler. However, as the weight of the user changes, the blanket should be a corresponding weight as well. We have a graph below to help you figure out which weight is best to get.
Before we dive into the benefits, let’s quickly cover what a weighted blanket it.
A weighted blanket is pretty much what the name implies. It’s a blanket with some extra weight. However, there are variations between weighted blankets.
The first variation is the weight. If you are choosing a weighted blanket, you’ll want to get one that is 10% of your body weight plus a pound or two. If you are purchasing for your child who weighs 50 pounds, then a 7-pound blanket would be perfect.
If you are purchasing a blanket for someone who weighs 180 pounds, then you’ll want a 20-pound blanket.
Another feature that varies between blankets is what is used to weigh it down. Most companies use rice, poly-pellets, or glass beads. At Harkla, we use a combination of PP Cotton and poly-pellets, so that it has a more comfortable feel.
Weighted blankets also vary in the fabric used. We use an extremely soft, dotted minky fabric. The sensory input is really good if the person using the blanket is a sensory seeker. You’ll want to choose which fabric works best for you.
The answer is yes! There is quite a bit of science that supports the therapeutic uses of weighted blankets. I’ll cover it shortly here, but if you want to dive into it, I’d recommend checking out our article that covers all the science behind weighted blankets here.
The quick overview is the underlying science of weighted blankets is deep touch pressure, often abbreviated to DTP or DPT (Deep Pressure Therapy). Deep touch pressure is basically any gentle pressure that is distributed across the body. A massage or hug could qualify as DTP. Check out our in-depth article about DTP here!
Often, parents who raise children with autism will have to lay with them while they fall asleep. This is deep touch pressure in action. The gentle pressure calms the nervous system and releases serotonin.
Weighted blankets can accomplish deep touch pressure, which alleviates the need for a lot of parents having to hug their child while they fall asleep!
This is the main reason we typically get for parents buying their autistic child a weighted blanket. It’s very common for children with autism to have sleeping problems, so parents are usually very excited when they discover how much a weighted blanket can help.
There are a few reasons that weighted blankets can help improve sleep for children with autism.
The first is that weighted blankets release serotonin in the body due to the deep touch pressure. Serotonin is an important chemical when it comes to feeling calm and having a stable mood. Children with autism are often low in serotonin.
Not only does the release of serotonin help a child feel calmer, but serotonin is needed to create melatonin in the body. Children with autism also tend to be low in melatonin.
Melatonin is a chemical that your body uses to tell itself that it’s time to go to bed. It’s typically based off of your current sleep schedule. However, since children with autism tend to not produce melatonin very well on their own, they struggle to have a natural sleep schedule.
Many parents will supplement with melatonin, but a weighted blanket could be another great option to try!
Another reason weighted blankets can help improve sleep is that they calm down the nervous system and have been shown to reduce anxiety. Often anxiety is one of the factors that keeps children with autism up.
The last reason weighted blankets can help is simply that they are heavy and will reduce tossing and turning.
Weighted blankets can be a great way to improve transitions from one activity to another, which typically can be a problem for children with autism.
One example of this that I have seen was teachers using weighted blankets in the classroom when children would come in from recess. Often, children will come in very excited, and getting them to sit down and focus can be difficult. The teachers would dim the lights and use the blankets for 5 to 10 minutes to help the children transition into classroom time.
This can be used in a number of other scenarios. It could be when your child comes home from school, in from playing outside, or even transitioning into something like a car ride. Weighted blankets are easy enough to pack along, but you could also use something smaller like a weighted lap pad.
One of the hardest transition times parents have with autistic children is getting them to go to bed. While we showed how weighted blankets could help during and falling to sleep, they can also be used in the pre-bedtime routine.
Perhaps you can lay the weighted blanket on your child while they read on the couch or your read to them. It can have the good physiological benefits, but can also become a symbol to represent that it’s time to wind down for the day and get ready for bed.
While not only children with autism have sensory processing disorder, it is a factor for a lot of them. The added weight of the blankets can be a great sensory input.
For a lot of children with ASD or SPD, having a feeling of where their body ends can be important for developing body awareness. While this can be accomplished with things like body socks or sensory swings, tk weighted blankets are another great option.
On top of the weight, you can get the benefit of the fabric, depending on what type of blanket you purchase. The blankets we sell on Harkla are made with an extremely soft fabric called minky. It also holds up well to washing and will stay soft for a very long time.
With the minky, we added dots to the blanket that give it an extra amount of sensory input. The soft fabric, plus the dots and the weight of the blanket it makes it a great option for a sensory seeker. And it’s something they can bring along with them, whether it's to a movie, car ride, or the classroom.
So while you can indirectly improve classroom performance with a weighted blanket by improving your child’s sleep and helping them transition when coming in from recess, there’s a few studies showing that deep touch pressure directly improves performance in the classroom!
The studies mentioned here used weighted vests, but the benefits would be the same with a weighted blanket draped over the legs or shoulders, or even a smaller weighted lap pad.
One study found that deep touch pressure had a positive effect with on-task behavior for children when it comes to fine motor skills, like writing. Another one showed that children with autism have better in-seat behavior when they are using a weighted blanket.
Weighted blankets have also been shown to reduce self-stimulatory behavior, also known as fidgeting or stimming. This can be a major factor in children not being able to focus. With less self-stimulatory behavior distracting the child, they are better able to focus on what they are learning.
When it comes to sizing your blanket, you'll want to look at the rule we mentioned before about 10% of your body weight plus a pound or two.
We created this chart below to give you a better sense of what size you or your child should get.
Weighted blankets can be a great addition to the toolkit when it comes to raising or caring for a child with autism. There is a reason it is our best selling product here at Harkla.
If you have any questions or comments, please let us know in the comment section below! I’m happy to answer or discuss anything with you.
Casey Ames is the founder of Harkla
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