Weighted blankets for autism: Including other weighted devices

What is a weighted solution?

Ever wondered why children hold on to their ‘blankies’ when they are scared, sad or asleep? Perhaps the answer lies in the warmth and protection children for ages have associated with their favorite piece of cloth, ‘blankie’.  Surely, as a parent, you will get tired trying to keep up with a child whose adrenaline is always pumping and doesn’t run out of questions to ask. How do you keep such a child rested and relaxed? Will you give that child pills to keep him calm or make him sleep? How about having great trouble falling and staying asleep?

The answer lies in weighted solutions.  As the name implies, a weighted solution is any piece of clothing material which has been built heavy. The aim of this is to help reduce anxiety and improve sleep. The most common weighted solution is the weighted blanket. Others are the weighted vest, weighted teddy bears, and the weighted eye mask. Weighted solutions are a safe and non-drug therapeutic approach for managing stress, anxiety, autism and other mental conditions.

Pictured: Child with Autism

What’s more? They come in a variety of materials so you have a lot of options to choose from. There are a lot of fabrics to choose from as there are fish in the sea. This can be a problem when buying a weighted blanket as there are 6 types of fabrics that make a killer blanket. The weight in these blankets is achieved by filling the blankets with either pellet plastic or with 100% breathable high-quality cotton. In the blankets are compartments filled with hypoallergenic nontoxic odorless crystal beads or pellet plastic. The extra weight adds warmth to the blanket and gives it a texture similar to a beanie baby toy. The end weight can range from 5 pounds to 30 pounds.

  • They are soft and fluffy. There are literary thousands of cotton options in whatever print and size you can imagine. If you are into textures, I will recommend a high-quality Kona cotton. These have the feel of a high thread count sheet and come in a multitude of solid options.
  • They are warm and cozy and is a great in-between option. It is not quilting cotton but it is warm without being overly synthetic. They come in a variety of prints and solids and are the perfect fabrics for making baby clothes, pajamas, and cool weather shirts.
  • Satin cotton. This is a great choice for people who are sensitive to heat and appreciate the tactile inclusion of satin. They can be used alone or combined with Kona cotton or minky.
  • Minky is so soft, most baby blankets are made from it. Sleeping on this feels like one is on the clouds and despite being originally in baby prints, adult designs are available.
  • This is a warm cozy synthetic material.
  • Linen rayon blend. While linen is a natural fiber, rayon is not. A combination of both fibers produces a material that is both durable as it is beautiful.

If you want a soft and warm blanket, fleece and minky are your best options. For public use such as in a hospital, I will recommend the linen rayon because they are more durable. If you want soft and breathable then you should be looking at natural fibers like cotton or satin cotton. Additionally, either of these materials can be combined to heighten individual experiences and choices.

How do weighted solutions work?

Much like a Thundershirt for a nervous dog or Temple Grindin’s squeeze machine for cows, a weighted blanket works like a warm hug. Humans tend to feel a sense of security when held and this is a feeling a weighted blanket replicates. The well rounded deep pressure from the weight gives the illusion of one getting a hug which causes the body to produce serotonin and endorphins. These are naturally occurring chemicals the human body uses to feel relaxed and calm. In addition, in the darkness of the night, the pineal gland converts serotonin to a natural sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin.

To provide a deep pressure touch stimulation without restrictions, most weighted blankets are filled with non-toxic Poly-pellets held in place to keep the weight even all around the blanket. The science behind the weighted blanket lies in its Deep Touch Pressure Stimulation (DPTS). Deep Touch Pressure (DTP) is the technical term for the feeling of gently distributed weight on your body. This pressure acts as a calming force and has the capacity to reduce activity in the sympathetic sections of the Autonomous Nervous System ANS in ways that increase the production of endorphins and decreases your heart rate. Serotonin and dopamine a calming neurochemical is released into the bloodstream during this process to boost your mood.

A similar feeling can be experienced during a massage, hugging a loved one, or snuggling with a partner. This makes DTP an effective natural remedy for anxiety, stress, and insomnia.

Factors to consider when choosing a weighted blanket

It is advised by manufacturers to use a weighted blanket that is 10% of your body weight and they usually range from 5 to 30 pounds. When a blanket is too heavy it can be disastrous for the individual using it. When purchasing a weighted blanket for a child, parents should put into consideration the child’s weight, height, bed size and even their preferred color.

When choosing a blanket, opt for one that is slightly smaller than your bed and made from 100 percent natural fibers. Synthetic fibers don’t breathe well but they can be used for smaller blankets that will not be used at night. The quality of the filling material is also to be considered.  Many manufacturers use materials that could break down over time and cause an allergic reaction in some people. The best bet, therefore, is to settle for one with plastic (that is BPA free), cotton or non-toxic crystal beads.

Also, the planned use of the blanket and the severity of the condition especially in children should be considered before buying a weighted blanket. After all said and done, check with your doctor first if you are not sure about the kind of weighted blanket to buy.


Benefits of Weighted solutions

Weighted blankets come with a range of benefits not only for people on the autism spectrum but for anyone with restless muscles, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD, insomnia and just about anyone trying to get a good night’s sleep

  • Therapy for autism.

Before we go into the possible uses of a weighted blanket for autism, let us first understand what it is.  Also called Autism Spectrum Disorder, autism is a developmental disorder characterized by challenges with social skills which impairs the ability to communicate and interact effectively. That it is a spectrum indicates that it is reflected by a wide range of characteristics and these vary from one individual to the other.

The most obvious signs of autism usually appear in an individual around the ages of 2 and 3, sometimes earlier. It is more prevalent in boys and is frequently accompanied by certain health issues such as gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, seizures, sleep disorders, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorders (ADHD) anxiety and phobias.

autism spectrum disorder

 

Children with autism usually end up sleep deprived and they have difficulties falling asleep at night or waking up in the morning, difficulty focusing during play, and take long or excessive naps. They also become overly emotional throwing tantrums and showing no patience, hyperactive, portray deviant behavior, have increased appetite, talk excessively mainly asking questions and having frenzied conversations, and become accident prone. When they are introduced to a weighted blanket, they become generally calm, exhibit improved social interactions, improved communicativeness, improved focus, sleep better. They also have lower incidences of seizures, lower hypersensitivity to touch, improved ability to tolerate the school environment and a decrease in self-inflicted injuries.

 

To further consolidate these positive results, autistic children can wear weighted vests. We personally feel that the Snug Vests are the best vests on the market for this purpose. Lisa Fraser did an incredible job designing them with comfort and effectiveness in mind. If you are concerned about your child walking around with a weighted vest, these, in particular, are built to be stylish and colorful and are extremely safe. They also blend into a more outdoor traditional style look, so your child won’t feel any embarrassment they may feel with other vests. Unlike the weighted blankets that come in a fixed weight, the weight of the vest can be adjusted. In the case of the vest, the weight is usually put at the bottom to put pressure on the shoulders to feel like its hugging them and providing a sense of relief especially when they are in school.

When deep pressure is applied to the body, it switches from running its sympathetic nervous system to its parasympathetic nervous system. This can also be called the switch from ‘fight and flight’ to ‘rest and digest’. Unfortunately, kids with autism spend more time stuck in the sympathetic nervous system and when they eventually rest, they are easily triggered.

 

  • Helps with falling asleep faster

Keeping up with the hyperactivity of an autistic child is a real challenge not only for the parents of that child but for teachers, siblings, and caregivers. This makes owning DPT’s and other weighted devices super important in the lives of autistic children and those close to them. They are particularly effective during moments of heightened anxiety, while trying to fall asleep or when sensory processing issues become overwhelming. With use, autistic children tend to use them as their ‘blankie’ and can be seen to use the blanket as a source of comfort while lounging or watching TV.

Getting all wrapped up in a weighted blanket can reduce the production of cortisol, a stress hormone which helps us get active and triggers the parasympathetic nervous systemExcess cortisol production in the body has been found to add stress, raise blood sugar levels and reduce the effectiveness of your digestive system. ‘Grounding’ your body in place as you sleep helps you get a higher quality relaxation which in turn lowers your risk of waking up tired, stressed or in pain.

 

Effects of excess Cortisol

  • Reduces Anxiety.

Irrespective of your age, a weighted blanket can keep your anxiety levels low at all times. A study carried out to show the effectiveness of a weighted blanket has shown that two third of the participants in the 30- pound weighted blanket test reported lower anxiety levels after wrapping up in one. As it has been proven by science that DTP reduces anxiety, consider keeping a weighted blanket around for quick relief.

 

  • They Help You Relax.

Neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, two major feel-good hormones are released by the trigger of Deep Pressure Touch. They help you relax and boost your mood to suppress feelings of uneasiness, depression, and anxiety leaving you feeling good, hip and happy. In addition, they improve the functions of the nervous system by eliminating unwanted stress and restlessness.

 

  • Helps fight Insomnia

A medical study again backs up this point. A research in the Journal of Sleep Medicine & Disorders on some insomnia patients found that those who used the weighted blankets fell asleep easier and had a less restless night than their counterparts who didn’t. The serotonin hormone released during use of a weighted blanket is partly responsible for your body’s melatonin level which is the chemical that tells the body to go to sleep. Similarly, the soothing effect of a weighted blanket creates an atmosphere similar to being tightly swaddled, which is comfortable for falling asleep.

 

  • Soothing for Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

People suffering from OCD always feel stressed by the slightest provocation and can get triggered when items are not placed in a certain order. A proven effective way of alleviating symptoms of OCD is to improve serotonin production either through medical or natural means. Weighted blankets come in handy to increase serotonin levels and makes you obsess less about the placement of things which will be a great relief for you and those around you.

 

  • Improves Concentration

One more reason to own a weighted blanket is that it increases concentration in the classroom for kids and at work for adults. Children who have ADHD often encounter difficulties concentrating in school. Again further research goes on to show that incorporating into a child’s routine the weighted blanket will help them master and improve their motor skills. If for example, a teacher wraps an autistic kid with a weighted blanket after his playtime, the child experiences a transition from a playful mood to one of quiet and concentration. Investing in a weighted vest for the child will also produce great results.

 

  • Always Around to Give You a Hug

This may come off as clique but much like cuddling a teddy bear, wrapping up in a weighted blanket can eliminate feelings of depression and greatly improve your mood. Hugs, teddy bears and weighted blankets alike can trigger the release of oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone that slows down your heart rate, reduces blood pressure and promotes feelings of relaxation and rest.

 

Can everyone use a weighted blanket?

Although weighted blankets have been proven to be a non-drug therapy for autism, they are also recommended for relief from anxiety, body pains, insomnia, Parkinson’s disease, Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorders (ADHD) and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). A weighted blanket can be used by all, old and young. Anyone can find a weighted blanket that fits their particular needs. Anyone fed up with anxiety, stress, and insomnia can find solace and comfort in the use of a weighted blanket.

 

You don’t have to suffer from a mental or psychological disorder to use a weighted blanket. If you find that you are not a morning person, a weighted blanket can help. It makes you feel calm, wake up happy and ready to fend off whatever life throws at you. A research carried out among 30 adults found that 60% of them fall asleep quicker and stay asleep longer for as long as they used the blanket. A good night sleep translates into a better mood and more productivity at work during the day. Despite its immense benefits, not everyone can use a weighted blanket. Pregnant women, anyone with a chronic heart condition, circulation issues, respiratory issues and people who are sensitive to heat, changing temperatures or women going through menopause cannot use a weighted blanket without first seeing a doctor.

Weighted blankets have proven to be therapeutic for neurological disorders and come loaded with the benefits of physical therapy. Investing in one will set you back a hundred dollars or more but in the long run, it will be money well spent.

 

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