If you're the parent of a child with autism, your doctor or occupational therapist may have recommended you try using a weighted blanket. Studies have shown that weighted blankets may help children with autism.
But where can you find an autism weighted blanket? What should you look for? We fill you in on how weighted blankets work, what weight you should choose, and which features you should look for to make sure you get the best weighted blanket for your child's needs.
What Is an Autism Weighted Blanket?
Occupational therapists and other medical professionals who treat autism have used weighted blankets, weighted vests, weighted lap pads and similar tools for years. Weighted blankets are sewn with small, evenly distributed pockets that contain polypropylene pellets. These pellets add weight, which allows the blanket to provide firm but gentle pressure to the whole body. Generally, weighted blankets are made with about 10 percent of the user’s body weight, plus a couple pounds.
While weighted blankets are perhaps most closely associated with autism and sensory processing disorder, they may also help ease the symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, insomnia and a wide range of other conditions in both children and adults. Here are six ways weighted blankets can help adults.
The type of pressure weighted blankets provide is consistent with a specific kind of therapy called deep touch pressure stimulation — sometimes called deep touch pressure therapy or DTP. To perform deep touch pressure stimulation, therapists apply firm, gentle pressure or squeezing on various parts of the body. Therapists can use their hands, rolling tools or weights to deliver the benefits of deep touch pressure. They may also use a weighted blanket, vest or lap pad.
Dr. Temple Grandin is perhaps the most noteworthy proponent of deep touch pressure therapy. As someone on the autism spectrum, Dr. Grandin had special insight into which types of therapy delivered the most benefit to individuals with autism. After observing cattle being led into devices that used gentle squeezing pressure to calm them for vaccinations, she developed a “squeeze machine” for humans. In her research, Dr. Grandin found that the gentle squeezing, hugging pressure made people with autism feel calmer, more relaxed and less anxious.
Weighted blankets are a convenient way to experience the benefits of deep touch pressure therapy at home. Many people who use them describe the feeling as a “full body hug.”
How Weighted Blankets May Help Children with Autism
There are a number of ways in which a weighted blanket may help children with autism. From boosting serotonin levels and reducing anxiety to improving focus at school and reducing the frequency of meltdowns, weighted blankets may address a range of challenges children with autism face.
Get More Restful Sleep
Research has shown that weighted blankets boost levels of serotonin in the body. According to a study published in the Journal of Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, 78 percent of study participants preferred sleeping with a weighted blanket as a “calming modality.”
Serotonin is a natural chemical that helps regulate sleep. When an individual has low or inadequate serotonin, they may experience restless sleep or insomnia. A weighted blanket may help increase serotonin levels, leading to more restorative, relaxing sleep.
Weighted blankets may also help reduce anxiety in people with autism. According to Anna Merrill at Indiana University Bloomington, it’s quite common for children with autism to experience a co-occurring disorder, such as anxiety.
As Merrill writes, “Many children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) will receive another diagnosis at some point in their development. In a 2008 study, seventy percent of a sample of children with ASD ages 10 to 14, had also been diagnosed with another disorder. Forty-one percent had been diagnosed with two or more additional disorders… These additional disorders, or comorbid diagnoses, can at times be extremely debilitating for individuals with autism spectrum disorders. The most common types of diagnoses are those related to anxiety.”
Studies have also shown that weighted vests, blankets and lap pads reduce stress on the nervous system. For example, a study published in the Journal of Medical and Biological Engineering found that individuals who used weighted blankets during dental procedures felt calmer and more relaxed. “Research has indicated that DTP intervention can increase the quality of life of patients suffering from anxiety, pain, and unrest, including individuals with developmental disability, dementia, attention deficits, and non-specific special needs.”
Improve Focus at School
Studies have also shown that deep touch pressure therapy can help children with autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder stay on task at school. One study found that children who wore a weighted vest at school had better concentration levels and higher rates of task completion.
“Results of this study suggest those diagnosed with ADHD can improve their in-seat behavior, attention to task, and task completion while wearing weighted vests in a school context… Sensory sensitivity or under responsiveness was improved by the proprioceptive and deep pressure input provided by the weighted vest. A weighted vest is a convenient tool in the classroom.”
Reduce the Frequency of Meltdowns
People unfamiliar with autism often confuse meltdown with temper tantrums. However, meltdowns are not bad behavior. Rather, they are a response to overwhelming stimuli.
As Sara Ryan, a researcher at the University of Oxford, notes: “That children with ASD can be disruptive is well established...but little attention has been paid to why that might be. In the current study, many participants linked their children’s disruptive behaviors to sensory issues and the difficulties children with ASD have dealing with different settings. Children went into ‘meltdown’ not as willful displays of bad behavior but as intense responses to overwhelming situations. Lights, unusual noises, darkness, crowds, queues, smells, unfamiliar places and people can all bewilder and overwhelm children with ASD in public spaces…”
Many parents of children with autism learn to recognize the signs of an impending meltdown. Each child is different, and what may overwhelm one child may not bother another. When a parent or caregiver sees signs of a meltdown coming on, a weighted blanket may help an overwhelmed child feel calmer, more relaxed and more secure.
What Is the Best Weighted Blanket for Autism?
Weighted blankets have become quite popular in recent years. While they started out primarily as a therapy tool for autism, more and more people have discovered the wide-ranging benefits of deep pressure touch therapy. Whether people simply crave better sleep at night, or they’re looking for a way to relax and unwind at the end of a long workday, weighted blankets have gone mainstream.
While it’s great that so many people are enjoying the numerous benefits weighted blankets have to offer, the boost in popularity means that many startup companies have jumped on the weighted blanket bandwagon. Many of these companies offer one type of weighted blanket, with a one-size-fits-all product. Others offer a low-quality product that fails to provide any real benefit. It’s no surprise that the majority of these new businesses have poor reviews, trouble fulfilling orders or inflexible return policies.
If you’re looking for an autism weighted blanket for your child (or you), you deserve a high-quality product that truly delivers the benefits of deep touch pressure stimulation. Before you order, look for the following features:
Durable Fabric - First, what kind of fabric and materials does the company use? Is it open and honest about its materials and where they’re made? At SensaCalm, we use 100 percent high-quality cotton that is durable, breathable and machine-washable. Our production facility is also located in the United States.
Made in the USA - Where is the weighted blanket made? If a company claims that its products are “designed in the US” and “sourced overseas” it means its products are made in factories outside the United States. At SensaCalm, we are proud to make all of our weighted blankets right here in the USA.
Breathability - What kind of materials does the company use to give its blankets weight? At SensaCalm, we use 100% virgin polypropylene pellets, which are breathable and mold and mildew resistant.
Machine Wash and Dryer Friendly - Chances are, you’ve spilled a drink or some type of food on your favorite blanket (or bedding). Isn’t it nice to have the option to throw it in the washer? Make sure your weighted blanket can be cleaned and dried at home. SensaCalm’s weighted blankets are machine washable and dryable on a low or medium setting.
Flexible Return Policy - When it comes to weighted blankets, it’s not always possible to get the weight right the first time. Everyone is different, and some people may prefer a little less (or more) weight in their blanket. One of the many things that sets SensaCalm apart from our competitors is our commitment to helping you find the right weight for you. Our return policy is the most generous in the industry. The bottom line? We want to make sure you’re completely satisfied with your weighted blanket, and we’re committed to making it happen.
Business Experience - How long has the company been in business? Does it have a track record of serving its customers for years? SensaCalm has been the industry leader in weighted blankets for 10 years.
Optional Features - One of the problems with one-size-fits-all weighted blanket companies is the lack of optional features like cuddle fabric, duvet snaps and waterproof fabric. When you purchase a SensaCalm weighted blanket, you get the option to add super soft and cozy cuddle fabric backing, snaps for your duvet cover and monogramming.
You can also choose from a wide range of colors, patterns and even waterproof fabric. Whatever design you’re looking for, there’s a good chance we have it. And if we don’t carry a specific design or color, we will work with you to find it and make it just for you.
Order Your SensaCalm Weighted Blanket Today
At SensaCalm, we make weighted blankets for children and adults with autism, ADHD and many other conditions. Visit our custom order page to learn more about SensaCalm weighted blankets, lap pads and more.
You can also contact us by calling 855-736-7222, or get in touch through our online contact form.
Disclaimer: The content on this website is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before undertaking any type of therapy or treatment.