The experiences of autistic children are unique to each individual child, so many parents find it challenging to understand their needs. For some situations, there are no answers, but thankfully, through advocacy, resources are becoming more and more accessible.
One of the challenges experienced by parents of autistic children is difficulty around their child’s sleeping. This may in part be due to their sensory needs not being met or hyperactivity in the brain that makes it difficult for them to sleep.
Some children on the spectrum constantly require deep pressure tactile input to meet their proprioceptive needs. The proprioceptive system exists in our muscles and joints and provides us with body awareness as well as detecting pressure i.e. it tells our muscles how much force is required to perform certain activities. Proprioception also assists with self-regulation, body posture, and coordination, to name a few.
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Sensory Weighted Blankets
Children with proprioceptive dysfunction often seek out sensory input such as jumping, stomping, crashing into walls, or being wrapped around in a blanket or hugged. For this reason, weighted blankets are wonderful inventions designed to assist children with sensory needs. The best part is that most types of sensory blankets offer just the right amount of weight that your child needs to fulfill their sensory needs.
Let’s dive in to learn more about weighted blankets and offer some tips for choosing the best-weighted blanket for your autistic child.
What does a weighted blanket do for you?
A weighted blanket, also known as autism or sensory blanket, is filled with materials that apply deep pressure stimulation on those wearing it. They are often filled with glass beads, cotton, or other materials to apply weight to the body which gives a sense of security and relaxation.
Sometimes weighted blankets are referred to as gravity blankets. They can be used to aid sleep but can also provide anxiety reduction in the daytime.
How do weighted blankets work?
The human body is a very sensitive instrument that responds to touch and pressure. In the same way that a baby can be soothed when it is picked up, the human body can also be soothed by applying deep pressure stimulation.
When we apply a weighted blanket or vest, the body releases oxytocin in the same sense way as it does when we are hugged or held like a baby. While some people are open to being hugged, those with autism or sensory processing issues may not be and so this kind of blanket is an ideal thing to use.
What are the benefits of a weighted blanket for kids with autism?
We all know the impact it can have when we are sleep-deprived. We become overly emotional and have difficulty concentrating. For children with autism or other kinds of special needs, this is even more pronounced.
Many children with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) struggle with sensory issues including sensory processing disorder (SPD). This can appear in the form of difficulty processing sensory input of the five senses as well as internal emotions. Often this can create anxiety and problems with sleep.
Parents might wonder what to do when their child gets stuck in the cycle of anxiety causing sleep dysregulation and vice versa. Holistic options are often more favorable over medication for many families.
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Research has shown that weighted blankets are beneficial for:
- Anxiety reduction
- Better sleep quality
- Deescalation of meltdowns and sensory overload
- Release of serotonin which is needed to create melatonin for sleep
- The release of oxytocin gives a sense of security and warmth
- Reduces stress hormones in the body
- Calms nervous system
- Children who don’t like to be hugged
Best weighted blankets for kids with autism
If you are looking for where to buy weighted blankets, we’ve compiled a list of suppliers that are suitable for those with special needs. We evaluated each blanket in accordance with the sensory needs of autistic children. Please note Autism Parenting Magazine will receive an affiliate commission for products purchased using our affiliate link. Many of the below options come with free shipping in the USA.
Weighted blankets by type
Pattern weighted blankets
Kids blanket with special designs
The thing we like about weighted blankets from Mosaic is they have particularly special designs for kids, making bedtime fun. All the blankets use pellets that are 100% non-toxic. You can get eight lbs or 10 lbs versions of most blankets.
A unique neck cut out design
Sleep tight with cut out neck design
Often kids with sensory needs are sensitive not only to the fabric of the blanket but also its layout. What we like about this kids weighted blanket is that it has been designed by an occupational therapist to have several features including a curved neck cut out at the top which allows it fit smoothly over the shoulders and chin without placing the blanket over the head. Parents often report its ability to deescalate meltdowns. Weight is available in 5 lbs all the way up to 25lbs. Both waterproof and soft covers are available depending on your childs sensory needs.
Wipe clean sensory blanket
With this pressure blanket you get the benefit of something that is easy to clean, with no washing required. Not only is it waterproof, breathable and tear resistant, it also features the special design listed above with the neck cut out for sensory issues.
Soft fabric blanket design for sensory issues
This soft design is great for kids with sensory seeking or over-responding issues. Children with autism generally feel quite cozy in this design by providing sensory input. It has a weight of 3 lbs and is machine washable, unlike other similar blankets.
Animal lap pads
While these are not strictly weighted blankets, we wanted to include them here because they are both cute and practical. They employ the same deep pressure techniques as an autism weighted blanket. Having your child use one of these while sitting can help in grounding to improve calm and focus
Cost-friendly weighted blankets
IIn this section, we evaluated blankets that had the benefits of soothing sensory needs while not being highly priced
The Snuggle weighted sheet
Snuggle sheet $40.99
If you are looking for the effectiveness of a weighted blanket without spending a fortune, this is for you. The snuggle sheet can be applied over a regular blanket providing compression with a hug-like feel.
Washable weighted blanket
Washable blanket $82.99
This is the most affordable regular blanket designed for special needs children that we could find. Prices start at $82.99.
Daytime drape weighted blanket
Daytime drape and all purpose blanket $89.99
Starting at $89.99 for 5lbs, this blanket is great for sensory needs and promoting sleep. It can be draped around the shoulders during the day or used for naps and bedtime.
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Sensory Weighted Blankets
FAQ – Weighted blanket frequently asked questions
How heavy should a weighted blanket be?
To some extent, this is a matter of preference, but as a general rule, we can say that it’s good that the blanket weight is approximately 10% of the weight of the individual’s body weight plus a couple of lbs.
Can a weighted blanket be too heavy?
Yes, it is possible for the weight to be too much. Children should be able to remove the blanket without assistance.
What size weighted blanket should I get?
It is important to be comfortable when sleeping, so a blanket for sleeping should cover the user’s feet, legs, and abdomen. For daytime or general sensory blankets, the size can be smaller. One thing to bear in mind when considering younger children is the size of the bed and to accommodate for growth.
Do weighted blankets really work?
According to many parents, the answer is yes. Many of the products mentioned above have reviews where parents comment on their effectiveness.
As for scientific research on weighted blankets, a study involving Dr. Temple Grandin published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy assessed that the use of deep pressure stimulation resulted in a significant reduction in anxiety. Similar research on attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and sleeping problems concluded that the use of ball blankets “is a relevant and effective treatment method with regard to minimizing sleep onset latency”.
How do I choose a weighted blanket?
If you are finding it difficult to choose, we’ve put together some tips of things to consider before buying.
How do I choose pattern and color?
Firstly if you are trying to get a child to use a weighted blanket, it is important that they like the design and feel relaxed under the blanket. Try asking your child for their opinion or go by colors and patterns they’ve liked in the past.
Which texture is best for my child?
Depending on a child’s sensitivity it is good to consider what kind of textures they are reactive to. While some weighted blankets are waterproof, the material may be triggering to an autistic child. It can be good to consider the use of a cover that fits with specific sensory needs.
There are many different types of weighted blankets made in a variety of materials including cotton, antimicrobial fabrics, mink, chenille, fleece, cooling fabrics, and waterproof fabrics. Quilted weighted blankets are also available.
Which design and weight distribution is best?
Most of us have become accustomed to blankets being rectangular-shaped and are used to the blanket either going over our heads or curled up around the shoulders. To a child on the autism spectrum, this may cause an additional sense of discomfort. It is worth considering some of the special designs where there is a neck shape cut out of the blanket and weight is distributed over the body rather than equally over the blanket.
Are washable weighted blankets best?
It is good to check whether the weighted blanket can be washed, some can simply be wiped down but others need to be hand washed or dry cleaned.
Are weighted blankets safe?
Be sure to check the supplier uses a filling that is safe such as glass beads or cotton. Some manufacturers use fillings such as lead which are toxic to the body.
What are the alternatives to weighted blankets?
For reducing anxiety in the daytime, some parents have also benefited from the use of special autism clothing and/or a weighted vest for autism sensory issues. You may also want to consider creating a special sensory space or bedroom and possibly the use of essential oils or supplementation like melatonin.
The choice of weighted blankets can feel like a complicated and strenuous exercise, especially when considering your child’s specific needs. So take it easy! You don’t have to make a decision right away. Very often, making the choice of material or pattern is easier by looking at the type of clothing your child tolerates, or the materials or items your child tends to use to satisfy their sensory needs.
Before looking at the bigger picture, break it down into parts. You’ve got this!