Weighted Blankets for Autism: A Complete Guide

In this article, we will explore the benefits of weighted blankets for individuals with autism and provide some helpful tips on how to choose the right one.

judah schiller
Judah Schiller
December 1, 2023
Published On
December 1, 2023

Benefits of Weighted Blankets for Autism

Weighted blankets have been shown to provide a number of benefits for individuals with autism. Here are some of the most common benefits:

Calming Effect

Weighted blankets have a calming effect on the body and mind. They provide deep touch pressure, which can help to reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. This is particularly beneficial for individuals with autism, who may struggle with sensory overload and anxiety.

Improved Sleep

Many individuals with autism struggle with sleep issues. Weighted blankets can help to improve sleep quality by providing a sense of security and comfort. The deep touch pressure provided by the blanket can also help to regulate the body's natural sleep-wake cycle.

Sensory Integration

Individuals with autism often struggle with sensory integration. Weighted blankets can help to provide the sensory input that their bodies crave, helping to improve their overall sense of wellbeing.

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Choosing the Right Weighted Blanket

When choosing a weighted blanket for someone with autism, there are a few things to keep in mind:

Weight

The weight of the blanket is crucial. It should be approximately 10% of the individual's body weight. For example, if the individual weighs 100 pounds, the blanket should weigh 10 pounds.

Size

The size of the blanket is also important. It should be large enough to cover the individual comfortably, but not so large that it becomes cumbersome.

Fabric

The fabric of the blanket should be soft and comfortable. It should also be durable enough to withstand frequent use and washing.

Fill

The fill material of the blanket will affect how it feels and how much warmth it provides. Common fill materials include plastic pellets, glass beads, and rice.

The History of Weighted Blankets and Their Use in Therapy

Weighted blankets were first introduced in the late 1990s as a therapeutic tool for individuals with sensory processing disorders. Occupational therapists began using them to provide deep touch pressure, which was found to have a calming effect on the body and mind.

In recent years, weighted blankets have gained popularity as a non-invasive treatment for anxiety, insomnia, and other sleep disorders. They are particularly effective for individuals with autism who often experience sensory overload and difficulty sleeping.

The use of weighted blankets has been supported by research studies that demonstrate their effectiveness in improving sleep quality and reducing anxiety levels. While more research is needed to fully understand the benefits of weighted blankets for individuals with autism, many parents and therapists have reported positive outcomes from their use.

Today, there are numerous companies that manufacture weighted blankets specifically designed for individuals with autism. These blankets come in various sizes, weights, fabrics, and fill materials to meet the specific needs of each individual. With continued research and development, weighted blankets will likely continue to be an important therapeutic tool for individuals with autism and other sensory processing disorders.

How to Properly Care for a Weighted Blanket to Ensure its Longevity?

Proper care of a weighted blanket is important to ensure its longevity and effectiveness. Here are some tips on how to properly care for your weighted blanket:

Washing Instructions

Most weighted blankets can be washed in a washing machine, but it's important to read the care instructions before doing so. Use a gentle cycle and mild detergent. Avoid using fabric softeners, bleach, or other harsh chemicals that could damage the fill material.

Drying Instructions

Weighted blankets should be air-dried or dried on low heat in a dryer. High heat can damage the fill material and cause clumping. Be sure to fluff the blanket periodically during the drying process.

Storage

When not in use, store your weighted blanket in a cool, dry place. Avoid storing it in direct sunlight or damp areas that could cause mold or mildew growth.

Repairs

If your weighted blanket becomes damaged, avoid attempting to repair it yourself. Instead, contact the manufacturer for repair instructions or take it to a professional cleaner who specializes in weighted blankets.

By following these simple care instructions, you can ensure that your weighted blanket remains effective and comfortable for years to come.

Different Types of Weighted Blankets

There are several types of weighted blankets available on the market, each with its own unique features and benefits. Here are some of the most common types:

Plastic Pellets

Plastic pellets are a popular fill material for weighted blankets. They are small, round pellets made from high-density polyethylene and are hypoallergenic and odorless. One advantage of plastic pellets is that they can be easily washed without losing their shape or weight. However, some people find them to be noisy when moving around in bed.

Glass Beads

Glass beads are another commonly used fill material for weighted blankets. They are small, smooth beads that provide a gentle pressure and quiet movement. Glass beads are also hypoallergenic and washable. However, they may shift to one side of the blanket over time, requiring frequent readjustment.

Rice

Rice is a natural fill material that is often used in DIY weighted blankets. It is inexpensive and readily available at grocery stores. Rice provides a gentle pressure and can be heated in the microwave for added warmth. However, rice can attract bugs and moisture over time, making it less durable than other fill materials.

Buckwheat Hulls

Buckwheat hulls are another natural fill material that provides a gentle pressure similar to rice but with added durability. They do not attract bugs or moisture and can be easily replaced as needed. However, buckwheat hulls may rustle when moving around in bed.

Each type of fill material has its own pros and cons, so it's important to consider your individual needs when choosing a weighted blanket.

The Potential Risks Associated with Using a Weighted Blanket

While weighted blankets can provide numerous benefits for individuals with autism, there are also some potential risks to be aware of. Here are some of the most common risks associated with using a weighted blanket:

Overheating

Weighted blankets can cause overheating, particularly in warm weather or if the individual tends to get hot when sleeping. It's important to choose a blanket made from breathable fabric and to monitor the individual's body temperature while using it.

Discomfort

Some individuals may find the weight and pressure of a weighted blanket uncomfortable or even painful. It's important to start with a lighter weight and gradually increase it as needed. Additionally, if an individual experiences discomfort or pain while using a weighted blanket, they should discontinue use immediately.

Suffocation Hazards

Weighted blankets should never be used on infants or young children who are unable to move the blanket off their face if necessary. Additionally, individuals with mobility issues or who have difficulty moving their limbs should not use a weighted blanket without supervision.

By being aware of these potential risks and taking appropriate precautions, you can ensure that your loved one is able to safely benefit from the use of a weighted blanket.

Tips for Introducing a Weighted Blanket to an Individual with Autism

Introducing a new sensory tool can be challenging, particularly for individuals with autism who may have difficulty adjusting to new sensations. Here are some tips for introducing a weighted blanket to an individual with autism who may be resistant to it:

Start Slowly

Start by placing the weighted blanket on the individual's lap or legs while they are sitting in a comfortable position. This will allow them to get used to the weight and pressure of the blanket without feeling overwhelmed.

Use Positive Reinforcement

Offer praise and positive reinforcement when the individual uses the weighted blanket. For example, you might say "Great job using your blanket, you look so cozy!" or provide a small reward such as a favorite snack or toy.

Incorporate into Daily Routine

Incorporate the use of the weighted blanket into the individual's daily routine. For example, use it during quiet time or before bed each night. This will help them develop a positive association with the blanket.

Allow Choice

Allowing the individual to choose their own weighted blanket can increase their sense of control and ownership over the tool. Offer several options in different colors, fabrics, and weights so that they can find one that feels comfortable and appealing.

Be Patient

It may take some time for an individual with autism to adjust to using a weighted blanket. Be patient and continue offering gentle encouragement and support throughout the process.

By following these tips, you can help make the introduction of a weighted blanket as smooth and successful as possible for individuals with autism.

Long-term Effects of Using a Weighted Blanket for Individuals with Autism

The long-term effects of using a weighted blanket for individuals with autism are still being studied. However, many parents and therapists have reported positive outcomes from their use. Some individuals have reported improved sleep quality, reduced anxiety levels, and an overall sense of calm and wellbeing.

While more research is needed to fully understand the long-term effects of using a weighted blanket, they are generally considered to be a safe and effective therapeutic tool for individuals with autism and other sensory processing disorders.

How to Incorporate a Weighted Blanket into an Individual's Daily Routine for Maximum Benefit?

Incorporating the use of a weighted blanket into an individual's daily routine can maximize the benefits of this therapeutic tool. Here are some tips on how to incorporate a weighted blanket into an individual's daily routine:

Use the Blanket During Relaxation Time

Using a weighted blanket during relaxation time can help individuals with autism feel more comfortable and at ease. Encourage the individual to use their blanket during quiet time, reading time, or other relaxing activities.

Use the Blanket During Sleep Time

Using a weighted blanket during sleep time can help individuals with autism fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. Encourage the individual to use their blanket each night before bed.

Use the Blanket During Stressful Situations

Using a weighted blanket during stressful situations, such as doctor's appointments or social events, can help individuals with autism feel more calm and secure. Encourage the individual to bring their blanket with them to these situations.

Use the Blanket During Transitions

Transitions can be difficult for individuals with autism. Using a weighted blanket during transitions, such as going from school to home or from one activity to another, can help ease anxiety and promote feelings of security.

By incorporating a weighted blanket into an individual's daily routine in these ways, you can maximize its therapeutic benefits and help support their overall sense of wellbeing.

Tips for Choosing the Right Weight Distribution in a Weighted Blanket

When it comes to choosing the right weight distribution in a weighted blanket, there are a few factors to consider. First, it's important to choose a weight that is appropriate for the individual's body size and weight. As a general rule, the blanket should weigh approximately 10% of the individual's body weight.

Another factor to consider is how the weight is distributed within the blanket itself. Some blankets use evenly distributed pockets of fill material, while others use a continuous fill that can shift around more easily. Evenly distributed pockets may provide more consistent pressure, while continuous fill may provide more flexibility and adjustability.

Ultimately, the right weight distribution will depend on the individual's specific needs and preferences. It may be helpful to try out different types of weighted blankets with different weight distributions before making a final decision. Consulting with an occupational therapist or other healthcare professional can also be helpful in determining the best option for each individual.

FAQs

What size of weighted blanket should I buy for an individual with autism?

The size of the blanket should be based on the individual's body weight and height. As a general rule, a weighted blanket should weigh approximately 10% of the individual's body weight plus one or two pounds.

Can weighted blankets be used on children with autism?

Weighted blankets can be used on children with autism, but it is important to use caution and follow safety guidelines. Children under the age of two should not use a weighted blanket due to the risk of suffocation.

How long should an individual with autism use a weighted blanket each day?

The length of time an individual with autism should use a weighted blanket each day will vary depending on their specific needs. It is recommended to start with short periods of time (e.g., 10-20 minutes) and gradually increase as tolerated.

Can a weighted blanket be shared among multiple individuals?

It is not recommended to share a weighted blanket among multiple individuals as it may affect its effectiveness and durability over time.

By addressing these common questions about using weighted blankets for individuals with autism, we hope to provide helpful information for those considering this therapeutic tool.

Conclusion

Weighted blankets can be a valuable tool for individuals with autism. They provide deep touch pressure, which can have a calming effect on the body and mind. When choosing a weighted blanket, it is important to consider factors such as weight, size, fabric, and fill material. With the right blanket, individuals with autism can enjoy improved sleep, reduced anxiety, and a better overall sense of wellbeing.

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