Weighted Blankets For Autism: The Ultimate Guide [2020 Update]
If you or someone you love has autism and you’ve been considering a weighted blanket, you’re in the right place. We’ve pulled together this definitive guide on weighted blankets for autism to help you understand what a weighted blanket is, the top five reasons a weighted blanket can help kids or adults with autism, how to choose the best blanket for you, and much more.
In this guide (click each to go straight to the section)
- What is autism, and how can it affect people’s daily lives
- What is a weighted blanket, and how do they work
- The top five reasons a weighted blanket can help kids or adults with autism
- Reviews from customers who’ve bought a blanket for someone with autism
- How to choose the right weighted blanket, and what to consider
- Some helpful tips we’ve collated to help people with autism thrive
What is autism and how it can affect daily life
Autism is a developmental disability that people live with their whole lives. It affects how they interact with others and how they perceive the world around them. It is a spectrum condition, meaning it affects people in different ways (although they share certain difficulties). Around 700,000 people in the UK are on the autism spectrum, or 1 in 100. Counting families of those with autism, around 2.8m people live with autism as part of their daily life.
- Anxiety from feeling the world is overwhelming. This can mean easily losing patience, difficulty sleeping or depression, as well as headaches, dizziness, or periods of intensely pounding heart
- Anxiety can also be a result of social situations or unexpected changes
- Difficulty understanding and relating to others, as well as taking part in everyday family, school, work tasks and social life
- Finding noise, smells and bright lights painful and distressing
- Becoming overwhelmed and experiencing a ‘meltdown’ or ‘shutdown’
Some autistic people may also experience sensory sensitivity – this can be to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light, colours, temperatures or pain. For example, sounds that others may easily block out can be unbearable to some with ASD. Any of the senses can be over- or under-sensitive, or both, at different times. These differences can affect behaviour and have a significant impact on an individual’s life.
Ways in which someone can be under-sensitive include holding others tightly before there is a sensation of having applied any pressure or enjoying heavy objectives like weighted blankets on top of them. Conversely someone may be over-sensitive and only be able to tolerate certain types of clothing or textures or have a strong aversion to being touched.
A further characteristic of ASD is sensory overload, or information overload. This is when too much information causes stress, anxiety or even physical pain, and can result in withdrawal or challenging behaviour. Meltdowns, or an intense response to overwhelming situations, may also occur.
What is a weighted blanket, and how do they work?
A weighted blanket is like a duvet with glass beads sown inside. The beads add weight and mean the blanket shapes around the body, simulating the sensation of being hugged and providing what is known as Deep Touch Pressure therapy. The pressure from this can trigger the release of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin. Feel-good hormones such as these work to naturally relieve the symptoms of anxiety, stress, depression and insomnia.
The science behind weighted blankets relates to the proven benefits of Deep Touch Pressure therapy. Known as DTP, this can simulate the feeling of being hugged or cuddled which has been shown to produce oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone directly linked to human bonding and is an important neurotransmitter that helps people feel relaxed and calm.
Additionally, DTP has been shown to raise levels of serotonin in the body. Serotonin assists with mood regulation and helps us feel calmer, which is perfect for those who suffer anxiety or stress and therefore struggle to sleep. Serotonin, also known as 5-HTP, is a common chemical found in sleeping pills. However, sleeping pills can cause grogginess, headaches and sometimes be completely ineffective. Weighted blankets are therefore a great, natural alternative for people who want to avoid the use of supplements to sleep more.
Weighted blankets also promote the release of melatonin, a hormone that promotes sleep and helps regulate the sleep cycle. The hormone is linked with the production of serotonin, so the pressure that triggers this chemical will also lead to melatonin production.
Simply, weighted blankets simulate being hugged which releases feel-good hormones and chemicals like oxytocin, serotonin and melatonin. These combine to promote a feeling of being calm and relaxed and, when we’re calm and relaxed, we enjoy a more restful, quality night’s sleep.
5 ways weighted blankets might help kids and adults with ASD
1. Enjoying better-quality sleep more often
Sleep problems are very common in children with autism and, as you’ll see from our reviews, a lot of parents buy weighted blankets for their kids with the intention of helping them sleep better.
Three ways in which weighted blankets can improve sleep for those with autism are:
- Deep touch pressure from weighted blankets releases serotonin, a crucial chemical in the body for improving mood. Children with autism tend to be low in serotonin, which can lead to restless sleep or insomnia. Deep touch pressure therapy has been compared to yoga and swimming.
- Serotonin is needed for the production of melatonin, a chemical signal our bodies release to tell us it’s time for bed. Autistic children tend not to produce enough melatonin themselves, and so weighted blankets offer a natural alternative to promote its release at or around bedtime.
- They are heavy, perfect for reducing frequent tossing and turning.
Improved sleep can decrease overall anxiety, increase happiness, improve focus and the ability to tolerate new or challenging environments.
2. Improved transition times between activities
Moving between different activities can be tough for children with ASD, for example moving from breaktime to a lesson in a classroom. Depending on where you or your child struggle with transitions, taking some time with a weighted blanket can be helpful in hitting the reset button.
Although as we’ve noted above, weighted blankets can work wonders at bedtime, building one into the pre-bedtime routine can also be helpful. We’ve discussed the physiological benefits above, however the inclusion of the blanket at a specific time and in a specific place can signal to your child that it’s time for bed.
3. Improved sensory experience for the wearer
As noted above, under- or over-sensitive to touch can be a challenge for people with ASD. Weighted blankets can be a great sensory input, particularly for helping develop body awareness or for those who simply the feeling of being covered in a heavy weight.
Equally some may only be able to tolerate certain textures against the skin. We recommend always buying a cover to go with your weighted blanket (read why further down in this article), making sure it is made from a soft fabric which is smooth and gentle against the skin. Isaac blanket covers have one side smooth, and the other dot for added sensory input.
4. Improvements in classroom performance
Many studies have demonstrated that better sleep and low stress and anxiety can improve performance in the classroom, but studies have also shown that weighted vests can also help when actually in the classroom! Don’t worry – you’d simply wrap the blanket around the child in this scenario for the same effect. Behaviour is improved in children with ASD when using a weighted blanket. Deep touch pressure has also been shown to have a positive effect on on-task behaviour, such as writing.
5. A completely natural way to tackle anxiety
40% of children with autism have one or more anxiety disorders, including obsessive compulsive disorder, social anxiety, a specific phobia or a generalised anxiety disorder. Weighted blankets help reduce anxiety because they mimic Deep Touch Pressure therapy. DTP has been shown to produce oxytocin, serotonin and melatonin which, combined, promote a feeling of calm and overall increase the quality of life for those suffering from anxiety, pain, and unrest.
Parents of autistic children, or adults who themselves have ASD, may choose supplements to improve serotonin (5-HTP found in sleeping tablets) and melatonin levels. Weighted blankets therefore offer a non-medical alternative to try at home. (Note that medical advice should be sought when choosing to add or remove supplements or medication to your lifestyle).
What our customers have said about buying a weighted blanket to help with autism
Having sold thousands of blankets, here’s just a sample of what some of our customers have said about buying a weighted blanket to help with autism:
“This blanket is great, super soft and brilliant for my sensory daughter. We all love sitting under it on the sofa together as it's huge and reading in before bed. If my daughter is over stimulated it helps her to regulate herself by either sitting in it or laying under It, it also settles her quicker at bedtime. She says it helps her feel calm.” Cox, 16 October 2019
“I bought this lovely weighted blanket for my teen daughter who is autistic and suffers from anxiety and sleep problems. The blanket is very good quality and the cover is really plush with sensory bobbles on them which she loves the feel of.
She loves her blanket and has been using it every day since I purchased it. She told me it makes her feel safe like a hug - she even sits watching tv wrapped in it. I’m over the moon as I have seen an improvement with her sleep and anxiety.” Sue, 20 June 2019
“Purchased for my son who is 19 and has autism. He has slept well every night and uses the blanket to relax – absolutely life changing!” Nicola, 31 May 2019
What to consider when buying a weighted blanket
As a general rule the blanket should be 10 percent of the wearer’s body weight, however it’s ultimately down to personal preference. Below is what we typically recommend:
Wearer’s weight: 7 - 9st
Recommended blanket: 10lbs
Wearer’s weight: 9.5 - 13st
Recommended blanket: 15lbs
Wearer’s weight: 14 - 17st
Recommended blanket: 20lbs
Keep in mind that the weight should be enough to provide deep touch pressure, but not so heavy that it poses a risk during sleep. If the first blanket you buy isn’t heavy enough, try folding it over – our blankets fit a double sized bed, so you can still cover yourself this way.
Our double weighted blankets are 60” x 80” (152cm x 203cm) and comfortably fit double beds. Blankets should cover your body from the neck down, without a lot left over. Depending on your height, our double blanket will likely be most suitable.
It’s important to note that if you plan to sleep under your blanket, it shouldn’t hang over the sides of your bed. That can cause the blanket to slide off the bed, and on to the floor during the night.
Weighted blankets typically have two components – the inner weighted blanket, and a removable cover. We recommend buying a cover to protect the inner blanket. Due to the weight, most inner blankets are not suitable for machine washing so it’s important you avoid spills or accidents if possible. A removable, washable cover will help to extend the life and use of your inner blanket by keeping it protected.
Helping someone with autism thrive
There are a plethora of therapies and approaches available to help your child or yourself thrive with autism. When each individual has their own unique needs and circumstances, researching all treatments fully and selecting the most appropriate will be crucial to long term effectiveness.
Some of the basics to consider are:
- Providing structure and safety by being consistent, sticking to a schedule, rewarding good behaviour, or creating a ‘home safety zone’.
- Looking for and using nonverbal ways to connect by observing nonverbal cues, figuring out the motivation behind a tantrum, making time for fun and paying attention to sensory sensitivities.
- Defining a space and time to calm down during stressful or anxious moments, using a weighted blanket to self-regulate.
- Creating an ‘anxiety plan’ to define an approach for tackling anxiety when it hits.
- Recording a diary, including the time, date, and exact situation when feeling anxious to help better understand and in turn control feelings
- Using meditation and relaxation apps.
- Physical activity to release tension and produce endorphins to ‘feel good’
- Other activities that are pleasant and calming such as taking a bath, listening to music, or relaxing with a weighted blanket.
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