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How to Find the Best Weighted Blanket for Autism

Autism is a lifelong challenge. With every passing year, scientists are learning more about autism and ways to help those with the condition.

Autism impacts up to 1 in 59 children. Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are developmental disorders that affect each person uniquely, although they share common characteristics.

People with autism can have trouble with communication and social situations. They might also have repetitive behaviour and intellectual delays or impairment. Or they could have a sensory processing disorder.

 

Is There a Difference in Autism in Adults Compared to Children?

Many of us may have had speech issues in our younger years at school that required intervention. Autism intervention has that in common with speech therapy -- interventions are best when introduced at a young age.

Autism is more recognised than ever before -- teachers, doctors, and even parents know what it is and some basic signs.

School teachers and officials flag any child they see who isn’t meeting the developmental milestones they should. Due to this, children going through school are less likely to graduate with an undiagnosed case of autism.

A generation or two ago, it was entirely possible for children with mild cases of autism to have their condition unnoticed. As a result, some people hear the diagnosis of autism for the first time when they are adults.

Adults who are diagnosed may notice different symptoms than what would be a red flag to a paediatrician who was diagnosing children with autism. As a result of the patient’s age, an adult may have different therapies than a child with autism would.

 

Therapies for Autism

There are plenty of therapies a person with autism may be offered. Some of them include:

  • Play therapy: There are different types of play therapy, including floortime, integrated playgroups, and JASPER (Joint Attention Symbolic Play Engagement and Regulation). Play therapy can boost emotional, social, and language skills.
  • Behavioural therapy: This can help those with autism learn new skills in all areas, like life skills, communication, and more.
  • Occupational therapy: This type of therapy helps people with autism improve on performing everyday tasks.
  • Speech therapy: Speech therapy involves more than just talking -- it’s about communication too. Simple things we take for granted like looking another person in the eyes when we talk to them are addressed in this type of therapy.

In addition to these therapies, people with autism find other tools to help manage their condition and symptoms. Occupational therapists, for example, sometimes recommend a  heavy blanket for autism.

They can provide some relief from sleep disorders, sometimes caused by anxiety, that people with autism often experience. The weighted blankets can offer deep pressure stimulation which relaxes and calms people with autism. That can lead to falling asleep faster, less frequent wakings, and less anxiety.

According to one study that examined the therapeutic effects of weighted blankets for adults with autism found that 63% of participants had reduced feelings of stress. 

The benefits of weighted blankets for autistic children are less clear. It’s still an option some therapists recommend because they have seen success with some of their patients. Below, we explore some studies to assess the ways in which weighted blankets could help children with autism.

 

How Weighted Blankets May Help Children with Autism

According to scientific research, a weighted blanket for kids with autism can provide numerous benefits, including:

Better sleep

Through the use of deep pressure stimulation, weighted blankets increase the production of the mood-boosting hormone, serotonin, and sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin. Both of which can help promote better sleep. According to one study, 78% of participants preferred sleeping with a weighted blanket, due to its anti-anxiety and calming effects. 

Lower anxiety   

Many children with autism are also diagnosed with other co-occurring disorders, like anxiety. One of the main benefits of using weighted blankets for autism is their ability to help reduce feelings of anxiety and promote feelings of calmness.

Improve concentration and focus

Deep touch pressure therapy is known to help children with autism and ADHD perform better at school. According to one study, autistic children who wore a weighted vest at school had better concentration and were more likely to finish a task.
 

Reduce meltdowns

Children with autism frequently experience meltdowns as a result of overwhelming stimuli. This can be things like crowds, unusual noises, darkness, unfamiliar people or places, etc. These episodes are often wrongly seen as just bad behaviour, when in fact it is because children with autism find it hard to process an overwhelming amount of new sensory information.

 

When your child starts showing signs of a meltdown, covering them with a weighted blanket can help them feel safer and more relaxed and can help reduce the frequency of complete meltdowns.

The Different Weighted Blankets Available

Weighted blankets come in various sizes and weights. They might just weigh a few pounds, or they could be as heavy as 30 pounds.

You’ll need to consider the size of the bed you’ll use it on. Other things that can vary from blanket to blanket include what they are filled with, such as glass beads or polyfill, and how they are constructed in terms of where the weight is placed.

The fabric they are made out of can also be a huge deciding factor for you. If you’re always cold like I am, you might want a warmer fabric like fleece or flannel. If you run warm, you may want a more breathable, lighter fabric like cotton or bamboo.

Also, if you want to know all the weighted blanket pros and cons, check out our article on this topic.

 

How to Select a Blanket for Someone with Autism

Weighted blankets can be expensive so you want to ensure you’re getting one that will be loved and used by the person you’re giving it to. To help you find the best weighted blanket for autism, here are some important things to consider. 

 

If you’re looking for a blanket for an adult with autism, remember:

  • Weight: Try to stick with a weight that is equal or close to 10 percent of the person’s body weight. Anything lighter may not be weighty enough. And anything heavier might be uncomfortable. However, bear in mind this is down to personal preference.
  • Fabric: If you know the temperature they like to keep their apartment or house at, that will help. If it is warm because they don’t like to use much air conditioning, stay away from heavier fabrics.
  • Go neutral: You can get blankets in any colour. But if you don’t want to clash with the colours they already have in their bedroom, pick something muted like a tan or grey.
  • Washing instructions: Make sure it is easy to wash and is made from a durable fabric that will last. The easiest way to avoid this is to buy one with a removable cover, so they won’t have to lug a heavy blanket to the washing machine.

 

 

If you’re looking for a blanket for autism for a child:

  • Consider the pattern: Having your child’s favourite cartoon character on their blanket might seem like a good idea. But, before you buy a pattern that’s too exciting for your child, remember it is easy to overstimulate the senses with autism. That’s the last thing you want right before trying to get them to sleep.
  • Weight: The same 10 percent weight rule applies when shopping for weighted blankets for kids. It can be tempting to increase the weight so you don’t have to replace the blanket as they get bigger and heavier. But that’s a bad idea. You don’t want them to feel smothered -- they’ll never want to use it.
  • Cost: Because children will outgrow their blanket and adults won’t, you might want to steer toward a more inexpensive purchase. Weighted blankets that aren’t heavy enough anymore can be donated or you can keep them around. They make great blankets to use for picnics and days at the beach too. The wind won’t carry them away!
     

For more information about choosing the right autism weighted blanket, check out Autism Parenting Magazine's: Weighted Blankets for Autism: Reducing Anxiety and Providing a Good Night's Sleep