Weighted Blankets for Autistic Children: Do They Help?

The National Autism Association reports that one in 59 children is affected by autism, and boys are four times more likely to develop the cognitive disorder. While autism awareness is the fastest-growing of the developmental issues, it’s the most underfunded.

What is autism? It’s a bio-neurological developmental disability that people are born with. Most cases are diagnosed by the age of three.

Autism affects cognitive development. It hinders a person’s ability to socialize, communicate, think, speak, and function in society. While there is no cure for autism, treatments and therapeutic techniques are available.

Many caregivers turn to a weighted blanket for autistic children. These heavy blankets soothe anxiety and reduce sensory meltdowns. They can even improve cognitive functions in children on the autism spectrum.

What is the purpose of a weighted blanket, and should you rely on it to support your child with autism? Let’s explore.

What Are Weighted Blankets?

Weighted blankets are made with evenly distributed weighted materials. The extra weight gives people a sense of security when they use these blankets.

Weighted blankets can weigh anywhere from five to 30 pounds. The blankets were first used to help ease patients suffering from clinical mental health disorders. This includes PTSD, anxiety, autism, and depression.

Recently, weighted blankets have become a popular nighttime accessory for people without mental health concerns. They can relieve pain, calm nerves, improve a person’s mood, and enhance sleep quality.

two-week research study found that out of 32 adult participants, 63% experienced less anxiety when using a weighted blanket. Seventy-eight percent claimed the blanket helped them relax and calm down when they were feeling tense.

What Is Deep Touch Pressure Stimulation Therapy?

Deep touch pressure stimulation therapy creates a calming effect by applying direct pressure to a person’s body. The pressure produces and releases serotonin, also known as the happy chemical, is an essential hormone for our well-being that helps people feel relief.

Weighted blankets apply deep touch pressure to those who use them. As pressure increases from the blanket, a person’s body releases more serotonin. The more serotonin produced and released, the better a person feels.

Deep touch pressure stimulation has been found to help people suffering from:

  • General insomnia 
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Restless leg syndrome
  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • ADHD
  • PTSD
  • OCD

In 2015, researchers found that participants who slept using a weighted blanket experienced a calmer sleep. The deep touch pressure from the blanket helped the participants fall asleep faster. It made them feel more secure and encounter less tossing and turning throughout the night.

Anxiety, autism, and depressive disorders impact a person’s sleep, which is why many mental health professionals recommend weighted blankets.

The Original Weighted Blanket for the Autistic Community

Weighted blankets originated from the autism community. Family members of those with special needs would craft quilted squares to add extra weight to their children’s blankets. As time went on, caregivers started experimenting with home-made weighted materials ranging from corn to popcorn seeds to beans.

Eventually, weighted blankets started being made using poly pellets, which is what most brands utilize today. Polly pellets distribute weight evenly throughout the blanket to allow deep touch pressure stimulation to do its job.

The effects of the weighted blanket can be seen in children or adults with autism. The user needs to have a blanket that is the right size for his or her body. A standard rule of thumb is that the weighted blanket should be 10% of the person’s body weight.

Weighted Blanket Benefits for Autistic Children

Do weighted blankets help children with autism?

1999 study found that deep pressure through a Hug Machine indicated a significant reduction in tension and anxiety for children with ASD.

2014 study by Pediatrics did not find conclusive evidence proving weighted blankets aided in sleep for autistic children. However, researchers reported that weighted blankets were favored by autistic children and their caregivers. 

According to Autism Parenting Magazine, research demonstrates that deep pressure stimulation from weighted blankets helps children with ASD by:

  • Decreasing floating anxiety
  • Increasing happiness due to higher serotonin levels
  • Improving social interactions
  • Decreasing sensory processing problems and hypersensitivity
  • Lowering the risk of seizures
  • Improving change tolerance
  • Decreasing the risk of self-injury
  • Increasing feelings of calmness

Weighted blankets are so frequently used for autistic children that they are commonly referred to as autistic blankets. The deep pressure stimulation from the blankets is thought to improve a child’s cognitive functions, helps them sleep, and decreases the number of meltdowns due to sensory processing disorder.

1. Weighted Blankets Boost Neurotransmitter Production

Between 44% and 86% of autistic children experience sleep problems. It’s not uncommon for children with special needs to have insomnia, sleep disruptions, and nightmares.

Many autistic children spend 15% of their sleeping time in REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage, while the rest of the population spends 23% of their sleep in the REM stage. It’s essential to spend enough time in the REM sleep stage to rest your brain and improve memory development.

Most children with autism are low in serotonin, but a weighted blanket releases serotonin in autistic children. Higher serotonin production stimulates melatonin, a chemical in our bodies that aids in sleeping.

With higher serotonin and melatonin levels, an autistic child may be able to stick to a structured sleep schedule.

2. Weighted Blankets Calm Nerves

Children on the autism spectrum tend to have high anxiety levels, which contributes to a restless night of sleep. In addition to improving chemical production, weighted blankets also calm down a person’s nervous system.

Weighted blankets and deep pressure sensitization therapy calm a person’s central nervous system, eases anxiety, and improves relaxation. It helps our bodies calm down, reduces our heart rates to a relaxed level, and eases us into a peaceful slumber.

3. Weighted Blankets Aid in Transitions

Children with autism often resist change. They have difficulty adapting to unexpected changes, no matter how big or small. Sometimes even transitioning from running around during recess to sitting still in a classroom can be very difficult for autistic children.

Common transitions that can trigger uneasiness in a child with autism include:

  • Change from daily routines
  • Doctor visits
  • Moving
  • Starting a new school year
  • Graduating

Weighted blankets increase feelings of security and lower uneasiness in children with autism. They can help a child transition or adapt to a new change in his or her life. Weighted blankets are a viable tool for both significant and minor changes.

4. Weighted Blankets Improve Sensory Input

Sensory processing disorder is a symptom in children with autism. Sensory problems make it difficult for a person to understand information obtained from their senses. Sensory issues can stem from touching, feeling, smelling, hearing, or tasting something unfamiliar or abnormal.

Sensory processing disorder makes children extremely sensitive. A bright light or loud noise can trigger anxiety, fear, and uneasiness in children with autism. Sensory processing disorder leads to dramatic mood swings, extreme tantrums, or even causes a child to flee.

A weighted blanket helps a child with autism feel secure and relaxed at times where their senses are triggering a tantrum. Weighted blankets provide deep pressure therapy to help a child stay calm despite experiencing sensory changes. For parents, weighted blankets are a handy tool for preventing autistic meltdowns.

5. Weighted Blankets Improve Cognitive Skills

Weighted blankets lead to better sleep and less daily meltdowns. With fewer sensory disruptions and a solid night’s sleep under their belts, autistic children can focus on the classroom to enhance their cognitive skills.

During class, an autism blanket can be draped over a child’s shoulders or legs to help keep them calm and focused throughout the lesson. The deep pressure therapy provides a sense of comfort for the child. The more comfortable the child feels, the more he or she can focus on and increase comprehension.

Choosing a Weighted Blanket for Autistic Children

Raising a child with autism requires a special level of care. Parents and caregivers must pay extra attention to their children and learn what helps them succeed in life. For many caregivers, weighted blankets have been a successful tool in relieving their child’s stress, anxiety, and fear.

Are you looking for the right weighted blanket for a child with autism? If the answer is yes, we have the selection for you. 

It’s essential to pick out the right blanket for your child based on his or her size. Keep in mind a blanket that is too heavy can be a choking hazard. Weighted blankets are not meant for babies.

To learn more, browse our selection of weighted blankets for children with autism or contact us now. Our blankets are designed to provide stress relief and make life a little smoother for you and your child. Shop now!