Imagine if you were to describe the autism spectrum like a box of cupcakes.
Hear me out...
Some cupcakes have sprinkles, and some have icing. Some have buttercream.
But, no cupcake is more “severely” cupcake than the other.
Autism isn’t a set of defined symptoms that get more severe as you “move up” the spectrum.
If you’re an autistic person, you have a unique set of neurological differences.
Your needs can be recognised and accommodated in different ways.
That’s why the question “do weighted blankets for autism work?” has many different answers.
Let’s dive right in...
Do Weighted Blankets for Autism Actually Work?
Weighted blankets provide a deep pressure sensation all over the body, which is a form of sensory input. If you seek or enjoy heavy sensory input, a weighted blanket can feel calming and relaxing. A weighted blanket will likely not work effectively for autistic people who are overwhelmed and irritated by heavy touch.
I’m not going to bore you with stats, so put simply:
For those who get cravings or require constant sensory input, a weighted blanket can be a:
“wow!! how did I ever live without one of these?”
But, for someone who is easily over-stimulated by touch and pressure they are:
“omg this is awful, why would anyone want this?!”
Some autistic individuals with sensory differences prefer a different type of sensory input (e.g. touching soft objects or looking at lights)
Others enjoy deep pressure but prefer it from a hug or from tight clothes.
What’s the bottom line?
Understanding your or the individual’s sensory processing needs is the first step before buying a weighted blanket.
Hundreds of autistic people say that their weighted blanket is the best sensory tool they own.
But for others, weighted blankets feel restrictive or uncomfortable.
Signs You'll Love a Weighted Blanket
- You like to use multiple blankets at the same time
- You enjoy contact e.g. cuddling with a pet
- You enjoy deep touch pressure e.g. being squeezed between objects/cushions
- You like to wear heavy clothes or layers
Reduce Stress and Anxiety
Firstly, if you’re autistic, you operate at a higher level of stress than a neurotypical.
Everyone knows about autism meltdowns.
But no one talks about “the shutdown” and its chronic cousin, “autistic burnout”.
If you feel stressed or anxious as an autistic, you may have your own go-to routine or response e.g. a stim.
What you’re doing here is focusing attention away from an overwhelming experience.
Can you use a weighted blanket as a stimming tool?
The evenly distributed weight applied by the blanket can help to create distraction, provide relief/comfort and address sensory needs.
At a physiological level, deep pressure therapy helps with emotional regulation by increasing serotonin and dopamine (happy hormones).
A boost in the production of these hormones can also help reduce the negative effects of cortisol (stress) to hormonally regulate your body’s response to sensory information.
In other words, you’ll feel calmer and happier!
Click here to learn more about how weighted blankets help with anxiety.
Calmer Transition Times
We all lead busy lives, and we move from one activity to another pretty quickly.
These are called transitions.
You’ll know that people with autism can REALLY value routine and predictability.
Any kind of change, no matter how small, can cause stress and anxiety.
Using a weighted blanket can help you prepare for sudden change.
Something as simple as creating a positive introduction to a new task can make them easier.
Use a weighted blanket before every transition can help:
- Weave routine in with new tasks
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Transition from an energetic activity to a more relaxed, calmer one
- Feel more positive about starting a new task
How Weighted Blankets Help Autistic People Sleep Better
Did you know that 80% of people with autism have trouble sleeping?
When you're up all night worrying, your mind races and you toss and turn.
Weighted blankets can help change all of that.
Reduce night time anxiety, late night panic and stress by throwing a weighted blanket over your body.
The increased levels of serotonin and endorphins provide an instant feeling of sleepiness.
The natural calming effect of cuddling up with a weighted blanket can help you regain your composure after a long, hard day.
Here’s how weighted blankets improve sleep:
- Reduces cortisol, which can prevent us from falling asleep
- Increases serotonin levels, natural precursor to melatonin
- Boosts melatonin which controls sleep-wake cycles
More information on how weighted blankets help with sleep
Don't They Make You Hot?
Hmm, well, yes. A weighted blanket CAN make you overheat, but only if you buy one that traps heat.
The key difference maker here is the fabric and the construction of the blanket.
Using a cheap, low quality blanket is a recipe for a sweat-soaked night of tossing and turning.
Pay close attention to the following if you’re looking for a blanket that won’t melt you:
- Filling – Blankets that use cheap materials need to stuff more plastic/sand into a blanket to make up the additional weight, making them thicker and less breathable. Look out for a blanket made with glass beads or no filling (knitted).
- Pockets – Use a weighted blanket with quilted pockets that keep the beads evenly spread and prevent hot spots.
- Fabrics – Cotton is a natural, breathable fabric whereas minky and fleece are softer, and will trap more heat under the blanket.
Some blanket users have one of each. A plush blanket for the winter months and a cooling, cotton blanket for the summer time.
How to Choose The Right Weighted Blanket for Autism?
No two cases of autism are equal, and the same can be said for weighted blankets.
Whether you're buying an adults or a kids weighted blanket, you'll need to know what to look out for.
Here’s my list of the most important points to consider when buying a weighted blanket for autism.
One of the more crucial considerations is even distribution of weight.
From corner to corner, not a single section should sag or bunch up.
When you roll over or move the blanket, the pressure should adjust naturally to your position.
If the filling of the blanket starts to bunch up and fall into the corners, you’re going to have a VERY uncomfortable experience.
How will I know if the weight is evenly distributed?
Blankets with quilted pockets are designed to guarantee an even distribution of weight.
Each pocket houses a very specific amount of weight that is locked into place.
The smaller the pockets, the better.
When the blanket moves, the filing (in our case glass beads) can only move inside the pocket itself.
Bad quality blankets are completely packed with plastic beads that have the freedom to move anywhere.
You could also opt for a knitted weighted blanket that will not contain any fillers at all.
Glass beads are heavier than plastic pellets. They are also smaller, so they take up less space in the blanket.
The finished product is thinner and more breathable than those made with plastic pellets.
Blankets made with plastic beads are usually bulkier and make a lot more noise.
This doesn’t affect the therapeutical benefits of the blanket though.
Organic cottons and natural materials are the most breathable fabrics. Polyester is denser and will make you warmer.
It is a good idea to invest in a double-sided blanket or a blanket with a removable cover so that you can take advantage of both materials.
The Key Takeaways
We strongly recommend trying a weighted blanket.
BUT, only if you are comfortable with pressure.
Hundreds of people with autism claim that their weighted blankets help them sleep better, feel calmer and focus more.
But remember, weighted blankets aren’t a medically backed treatment.
They are a therapeutical tool to help alleviate the symptoms that make autism harder to deal with.
If you’re going to buy one, consider the fabric and the construction of the blanket first and foremost.
If you have any questions or additional thoughts, feel free to share them with me below.