For many people with autism, relaxation and self-regulation can be a daily challenge. A weighted blanket is a simple solution that can help ease anxiety and promote calmness. In this article, we will explore what a weighted blanket is, the benefits it can have for individuals with autism, the factors to consider when choosing one, how to introduce it, and proper use and care.
Understanding weighted blankets and their benefits
Weighted blankets are becoming increasingly popular in recent years, especially among those who struggle with anxiety, insomnia, or sensory processing difficulties. These blankets are designed to provide deep pressure simulation (DPS), which can help calm the nervous system and reduce stress levels. The idea behind these blankets is to simulate the feeling of a hug, which can create a sense of comfort and security.
Weighted blankets work by applying pressure to the body, which can help stimulate the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and sleep. Serotonin is also known as the "feel-good" hormone, and it plays a crucial role in promoting feelings of happiness and well-being.
When the body is under stress, the production of serotonin can be disrupted, leading to feelings of anxiety and depression. By providing a deep pressure touch sensation, weighted blankets can help increase the production of serotonin, which can help reduce stress levels and promote relaxation.
Benefits of weighted blankets for people with autism
People with autism often experience sensory processing difficulties, which can contribute to anxiety, stress, and difficulty with self-regulation and sleep. Weighted blankets can be particularly helpful for individuals with autism, as they provide sensory input that can help create a sense of calm and promote better sleep patterns.
Furthermore, since individuals with autism may have difficulty recognizing and interpreting emotions, the gentle pressure of a weighted blanket can aid in self-soothing and self-regulation. This can be particularly beneficial in situations where the individual is feeling overwhelmed or anxious.
Overall, weighted blankets can be a helpful tool for promoting relaxation, reducing stress levels, and improving sleep patterns. Whether you struggle with anxiety, insomnia, or sensory processing difficulties, a weighted blanket may be worth considering as part of your self-care routine.
Factors to consider when selecting a weighted blanket
With so many weighted blanket options available, it can be overwhelming to choose the right one. When selecting a weighted blanket, there are several factors to consider to ensure the most effective and comfortable experience. Two important factors to consider are the person's weight and the type of filling. It is important to choose a blanket that is appropriate for the individual's size, as this will ensure that the blanket provides the desired amount of pressure without being too heavy or uncomfortable.
The recommended weight for a person's blanket should be approximately 10% of their body weight, plus or minus one or two pounds. This means that a person who weighs 150 pounds should choose a blanket that weighs between 13 and 17 pounds. It is important to note that this is just a general guideline, and some people may prefer a heavier or lighter blanket based on their personal preferences.
Children can still benefit from weighted blanket use, but should do so under the supervision of an adult. Weighted blankets should still be between 10-15% of their body weight, and children should be able to easily remove the blanket by themselves if they become uncomfortable. Weighted blankets should not be used with very young children or infants. If you’re considering getting a weighted blanket for your child, you may consider introducing it as a shared activity, e.g. if you use a weighted blanket yourself invite your child to sit with you under the blanket. If your child enjoys that gentle ‘hugging’ sensation, then you can look for a blanket of their own.
Filling and construction considerations
The filling material should also be considered when selecting a weighted blanket. Common filling materials include polypropylene pellets, glass beads, plastic pellets, and fabric-based fills. Each material has its own unique properties, and it is important to choose a material that best suits the individual’s needs.
The type of material and filling can also affect the level of pressure provided. For example, glass beads are typically heavier than polypropylene pellets or fabric-based fills, so a blanket filled with glass beads may provide a higher level of pressure. However, blankets with non-fabric fills may become unevenly distributed over time, as beads leak from one section to another or out of the blanket entirely.
Fill durability is another important consideration. Polypropylene pellets and glass beads are popular choice, as they are quiet and provide evenly distributed weight. It’s important to note blankets that are filled with pellets or beads are usually not machine washable, as the pellets may melt or damage your washing machine. Investing in a blanket with a fabric-based fill allows the blanket to be machine-washable.
Introducing a weighted blanket to a person with autism
While weighted blankets have been shown to have a calming effect, it is important to introduce the use of a weighted blanket slowly and with care to ensure the individual is comfortable and receptive. Begin with short periods of 10-15 minutes and gradually increase the time as the person becomes more accustomed to the feeling of the blanket. This gradual introduction will allow the person to become comfortable with the pressure and help to increase their tolerance for it over time.
Monitoring the individual's response
As with any new intervention, it is important to monitor the individual's response to using the weighted blanket and adjust accordingly. Some individuals may need more or less pressure to be comfortable, while others may not respond well to the use of a weighted blanket at all. It is important to monitor the individual's response to ensure that the weighted blanket is providing the benefits intended and is not causing discomfort or harm. It goes without saying that a weighted blanket should never be used as a form of punishment or restraint, and the individual should always have the option to remove the blanket if they are uncomfortable.
Establishing a routine
As an individual becomes comfortable using a weighted blanket, you can begin promoting the use of the weighted blanket as a sensory tool and incorporating it into daily life. This can include using the blanket for sleep, relaxation, or during times of stress or anxiety. The routine should be tailored to the individual's needs and preferences, and should be flexible enough to accommodate changes in their routine or schedule. Some individuals find a weighted blanket helpful for sleep, while others appreciate the benefits more as a tool to help self-regulate during moments of stress or sensory overload.
Overall, introducing a weighted blanket can be a helpful tool in promoting comfort and reducing anxiety for individuals with autism. However, it is important to introduce the use of a weighted blanket slowly and with care, monitor the individual's response, and establish a routine that is tailored to their needs and preferences.
When to replace a weighted blanket
A weighted blanket should be replaced if it shows signs of wear and tear. Common reasons for wear and tear among bead-based blankets include when the filling has become clumped and no longer provides even pressure, or when the blanket starts to leak fill.
Additionally, if a weighted blanket no longer meets the individual’s sensory needs, such as being too light as a child grows or too heavy if they become more sensitive to weight, replacing a blanket may be necessary.
Using a weighted blanket can be a simple, effective way to promote relaxation and regulate emotions for individuals with autism. It is important, however, to choose the right blanket, introduce it gradually, and use it safely and properly. With careful use and maintenance, a weighted blanket can provide comfort and support for years to come.
We here at Nuzzie pride ourselves on making a weighted blanket that is well-tailored to the sensory needs of many people with autism. Our super-soft jersey fabric and open-knit design provide a comforting sensory feel that doesn’t get too hot, and our recycled polyester fill means our blankets won’t lose weight distribution over time and can be washed in a regular washing machine.