Weighted blankets for autism are becoming the new “must have” accessory for households with autistic children or family members with mental disorders. Autism blankets are quickly becoming a living room and bedroom staple item not only because Oprah and Dr. Oz said so, but because they have calming properties that the whole family can benefit from.
What is a Weighted Blanket?
A weighted blanket, or now often referred to as an autism blanket, is a blanket that has stuffing or filling material inside that gives it extra weight, comes in a variety of sizes that are based on the user’s body weight, and are made with a soft fabric. There are several manufacturers offering a wide range of weights, sizes, colorful kid-friendly patterns, and other accessories like embroidered duvet covers with matching pillowcases. Autism blankets are also available in a medical grade material that is suitable for multiple users in a hospital, doctor’s office, or other public facilities. The medical grade material can be wiped down and does not need to be laundered as frequently, if at all.
Why is a weighted blanket good for Autistic children and adults?
There are several benefits of having an autism blanket handy for your child or loved one. First, it’s important to understand what Autism is and how it impacts daily activities and family life.
Autism is one of five pervasive developmental disorders or PDD’s. A PDD inhibits mental development in one form or another and includes Rett Syndrome, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder, Atypical Autism, Asperger Syndrome, and the most common, Autism. The center for disease control estimated in 2016 that 1 in 68 children have autism. There is currently no proven cure. The most common signs of autism include the following:
- Difficulty communicating
- Delay in learning to speak
- Problems with hearing
- Repetitive habits
- High or Low energy levels
- Impaired recognition of social cues and interactions
- Abnormal responses to sensory stimuli
- Subpar IQ’s or extremely intelligent
Therapy & Treatments
There are a wide range of treatment options for Autism even though there isn’t a cure. Medical professionals stress how important it is to start therapy as soon as you notice your child or a family member has fallen behind developmentally.
Sensory Integration Therapy
Sensory Integration Therapy was first implemented in the 1960’s by a University of Southern California faculty member, A. Jean Ayres. The therapy consists of re-introducing the child or patient to the basic senses and monitoring their responses. Ayres believed that lacking sensory experiences may have contributed to the late development of the patient. She reintroduced them to their senses and coined the term sensory integration. The therapy does not involve just sitting down and touching or smelling objects, but rather incorporating certain tactile objects, like an anxiety blanket, into the patient’s life and analyzing the reactions or results. The therapy can take months or years of work and is usually administered by an occupational therapist. The American Occupational Therapy Association estimates that nearly 80 percent of Autistic children and adults are in need of sensory integration therapy.
Occupational therapists provide a critical role in implementing sensory integration and educating parents and loved ones on how to interact at home with their Autistic family member. Occupational therapists can quickly identify which senses negatively impact the child, such as a loud noise from a piece of furniture or the gelatinous texture of eating chocolate pudding. Once a problematic sense is detected, the therapist knows how to calm the child down after experiencing the negative stimuli to a sense with a weighted vest or weighted blanket and then tackles the issue of gradually working on that stimuli to make it easier to experience.
Therapists often mimic the actions of autistic children so it makes them feel comfortable in a social setting. For example, if a child who is sensitive to being touched is playing with a group of students and their friend grabs their hand to lead them to a toy, the autistic child could panic from the act of being pulled away by their hand. The child could become anxious and frightened and go run to the corner and curl up all alone by themselves, secluding them socially. The therapist would then go over to the corner and curl up in the same manner next to the child. In this example, the therapist is trying to mimic the child’s actions so they don’t feel alone or antisocial. In fact, this makes the child feel socially accepted.
Occupational therapy is often times performed in school and is considered part of an Autistic child’s curriculum. The therapy can include other natural treatment elements like acupuncture, deep pressure massage, speech therapy, and dietary treatment. The therapist will often invite family members and siblings to therapy sessions or in-school classes so siblings and family can learn how to interact and lead the child outside of school.
Holistic and Natural Alternatives
There are many holistic approaches to treating Autism, but again, are not a proven cure. Many people refer to Ancient Chinese Medicinal practices which include eating a balanced diet, receiving acupuncture, balancing one’s spiritual Qi, and receiving deep pressure massages.
Acupuncture is an alternative medicine used by many to cure or treat a wide range of ailments. These ancient methods have been used for centuries and have become increasingly popular in the 21st century since they are a natural practice and sessions do not end with a written prescription medicine. Acupuncture treatments target the central nervous system in many ways, but it is unclear if the treatment is a true cure or complementary treatment for Autism.
The University of Hong Kong performed a double-blind, controlled study in 2005 on 59 Autistic children to determine if electro-acupuncture could improve their disorder. The children were given the treatment every other day for a four week period and the treatments lasted for 30 minutes. Parents recorded lifestyle changes and self-administered assessments on the child. Researchers also interviewed and recorded any findings on the subjects. The results suggested that the acupuncture trial improved language comprehension and self-care but did not impact the improvement of their moods, temper tantrums or the progression of vocabulary or auditory skills.
The study didn’t reveal any groundbreaking results, however, it gives hope to those who seek natural treatments for Autism.
Autism Blanket Calming Properties
Now that you are familiar with Autism, let’s go back to why weighted blankets are called autistic blankets and understand how they can impact a child and their family. The most common reason why the blankets are used on autistic children and adults is due to their sensory integration properties. Autism blankets stimulate the senses in that they:
- Provide weight that mimics a hug but without the human touch of a hug
- Feel smooth and soft to the touch, allowing the user to caress the blanket repeatedly, thus reducing anxiety
- Isolate the user underneath the blanket which defines their personal space and creates their own safe haven even in a crowded environment
- Activate deep pressure massage tissues that stimulate nerves while calming and relaxing the body
Autistic blankets are not just for at-home use. Many parents take them to frequent doctors appointments or other anxiety-causing appointments for their loved one. The autistic blankets are available in several sizes that are based on the user’s body weight and can be ordered in various prints, patterns, and colors. Some blankets can be very bulky and heavy and some may not want to bring them to an appointment or meeting. For this specific reason, certain manufacturers offer smaller sizes that are travel-friendly yet still offer the same calming properties a larger blanket would.
Autistic Blankets for the Whole Family
If you are looking for an autism blanket for yourself or a family member, you may want to think about purchasing multiple blankets. They are so effective and liked by users that siblings often like to share the blanket because of its calming properties.
This is good and bad. The social interaction and comradery that is shared are good, but the blankets should really only have one user in order to be truly effective. The blankets are specifically designed for a particular body weight. If an older or younger sibling starts to use the autistic blanket, it will not only take away the effectiveness for the primary user but it may be too heavy or too light for the sibling.
Let’s face it, life is already stressful enough as it is, but when you have an Autistic child in the house it can create an even more chaotic environment for you, your spouse, and their siblings. Autistic blankets have a way of calming down the entire family during stressful times of the day including the early morning before school and in the evening time right before bed.