Weighted Blankets For Autism: What You Should Know

Many people with autism could benefit from using a weighted blanket at night.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
September 20, 2023
min read

Benefits of weighted blankets for autism

Weighted blankets have seen used for many years, especially for autistic people. They're also popular for children with similar disorders, like ADHD. In many studies done, autistic people generally choose weighted blankets for various purposes but the most common one is to better relax.

A person who prefers a certain blanket could find more relaxation while it's in use. Surveys done in the last decade show good feedback on them, from both parents and their children. Yet this is an ongoing area of study with new information being made public periodically, typically with positive summaries.

How do weighted blankets work?

When a weighted vest or blanket is worn, the brain releases a chemical called oxytocin. This is also released when people are hugged. The brains of babies react the same way when they're comforted.

Although most people are okay with hugging when it's appropriate to do so, people with autism or others facing issues with the senses might not like it.

Therefore, a weighted blanket helps them feel relieved in situations where they're prone to sensory overload or just wanted to relax and fall asleep.

All humans are sensitive to touch, noise, and pressure.

This uncanny characteristic allows babies to be soothed when patted on the back or just picked up by someone they recognize. Older people can also be soothed by stimulation that involves pressure being placed on the entire body, or specific regions of the body.

Why do children with autism like weighted blankets?

Children with autism like weighted blankets as they allow them to relax, rest and calm down in situations where they're liable to experience anxiety or panic.

When someone is awake throughout the night from worry, they might have a difficult time focusing on getting to sleep.

This results in tossing and turning, where simply getting good rest becomes an annoying chore. Weighted blankets can assist people with ASD in this feat.

They lower the chances of a child experiencing anxiety during the night. They also help keep stress and panic far away from manifesting. Simply throwing a weighted blanket over someone in this instance might be enough for them to calm down and attempt to rest.

Seratonin and endorphin levels are boosted when kids with ASD wear such blankets. It drives an instant feeling of wanting to go to sleep.

Cuddling creates a calming, soothing impact on the body, making the heart rate slow and the ability to maintain composure more easily. The body lower cortisol levels at this moment. Too much cortisol can lower one's ability to rest.

How heavy should a weighted blanket be?

Although it's ultimately up to one's preference, a weighted blanking is typically at least 10% of one's body weight. If a child weighs 40 pounds or 18.3 kilograms, the blanket should be no less than four pounds total or 1.81 kilograms.

There's no problem going heavier. However, this works better when a child is allowed to pick or try out the blanket themselves, if possible.

Will a weighted blanket help an autistic child sleep?

Not too much study has been done concerning the use of weighted blankets as they related to calming a child down. Most of the research focuses on studies done decades ago, where the benefits of applying pressure stimulation to children are thought to be an effective sleep aid.

In one study done in the late 1990s, along with others in the following decade, sleep pressure stimulation was shown to be highly advantageous to the health of the autistic.

Nevertheless, nothing indicates that weighted blankets give adequate stimulation through deep pressure.

This research mostly relied on comparison to pressure that's given when someone is hugged, whereby additional applications of weight equals higher levels of pressure.In one of the largest studies of weighted blankets, 67 kids took part in it, with all of them being autistic. Their ages ranged from five to 16 years.

Those with a severe inability to sleep has no major improvements during the time in which they did fall asleep, the time it took them to fall asleep, and the amount of walking they did prior.

Regardless, all of the children chose the weighted blankets over anything else, and so did their parents.Another study conducted with adults revealed a 63% decrease in stress when a weighted blanket was used.

78% of the people participating in it like the weighted blanket for its calming effect on their bodies.

In this study, the participant's vital signs were constantly monitored, as were their stress levels.

While taking all considerations in mind, researchers summarized that weighted blankets were not only safe but preferable for autistic people.

Other studies and lessons learned from unfortunate tragedies reveal that weighted blankets must be used properly. Improper use could lead to difficulty breathing and more serious ailments.

For this reason, various local and countrywide governments have attempted to inform the autistic community of the dangers they pose. So long as the blankets are used as they're intended, and with care, the chances of them causing harm are rare.

Do weighted blankets for autism work?

Weighted blankets could work in individual cases of autism, but whether or not they work for all is subject to further research.Although they're widely used, studies for them are limited, sometimes with contradictory conclusions.

Much of the evidence spans a long time but the bulk of it is very recent. In a 2020 review of several weighted blankets, possible therapeutic advantages were found in each, especially for the subsidence of anxiety.In a 2021 study, both children with autism and ADHD were given weighted blankets, with research concluding the following:

  • Weighted blankets are helping for faster sleep
  • Children who used them were more likely to stay asleep throughout the night
  • Children woke up easier when a weighted blanket was provided the following night

How do I choose the right weighted blanket for my child with autism?

Weighted blankets should be picked with careful consideration of the preferences of the person that needs them. A child with autism, for example, might be more attracted to specific colors, patterns, and materials.

Parents should ask their children upfront what they prefer, or even have them come along to ensure that the weight of the blanket is okay for them.

steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

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