Can Weighted Blankets Help Children With Autism?

By freelance writer, Jane Sandwood

Did you know that something as simple as a blanket can make a huge difference to a child with Autism? Blankets with weights sewn into them have been proven to have a calming effect on those with Autism Spectrum Disorder and other sensory disorders. In one study, 63% of the participants reported lower anxiety levels after using the blanket, and 78% preferred the blanket over other calming interventions. What is a weighted blanket, and why are they beneficial?

The Basics Of Weighted Blankets

The therapeutic benefits of weight and pressure have been used for many years. The concept behind this intervention comes from the science of Deep Touch Pressure (DTP), where gentle, deep pressure is applied to cause a calming effect. This can take the form of weighted vests, hugging therapy, or weighted blankets. Weighted blankets are made with metal or plastic beads sewn between layers of material. The weights are evenly distributed throughout the blanket. This resource can be used during naps or rest periods, or at night.

What Are The Benefits?

DTP interventions are designed to have a calming effect on the body. Children, teens, and adults with autism often have sensory integration disturbances which can cause sleep disturbances, anxiety, or a feeling of sensory overload. The gentle pressure of a weighted blanket changes the sensory input on the body.

Distributed pressure affects the nervous system, and can promote calm. DTP modalities also increase serotonin in the body. Though one study reported that weighted blankets don’t change the sleep patterns of children with ASD, the majority of the study participants did prefer using the weighted blanket over non-weighted covers.

How To Buy

Weighted blankets come in different sizes, weights, colors, and fabrics. When shopping for a weighted blanket, it is important to note that the blanket should cover only the top of the bed. It should not hang down over the sides, or else the weights will work with gravity and slide off of the bed.

Gentle, deep pressure has calming effects on the nervous system and weighted blankets represent just one mode of DTP. Children with autism may prefer this calming modality over others, and it could be a great resource to add to a care plan to help ease anxiety and promote calm.