The benefits of a weighted blanket for kids with Autism, ADHD, Anxiety, Sleep and Sensory Disorders

Weighted Blankets for Kids: Transform the Way Your Kids Sleep

Let’s be honest… we all want to be the best parents we can be for our kids. We want them to perform well in school, grow into amazing adults, and live happily. And we also realize how important adequate amount of sleep can be for their development. No wonder you will do just about anything to get them to sleep. Sleep plays a key role in the mental and physical health of a child. After a pretty long day, it allows them rest, recover and get ready for what the next day brings. Unfortunately, many parents struggle to get their kids to sleep. So, what do you do if your child simply cannot sleep? Well, there are few remedies that can improve kids sleep. Some of these include inversions, breathing techniques and tart cherry juice. However, a better sleep environment may be all the child needs to enjoy better sleep, and a weighted blanket is designed to ensure the perfect environment for kids.

What Is a Weighted Blanket?

A weighted blanket is a specially made therapeutic blanket with some additional weight, generally weighing between 5 to 30 pounds. They come in different weights to accommodate the user’s size. The idea behind weighted blankets is to make them a little heavy so they can apply a firm pressure on the user’s body.

Depending on the manufacturer, these blankets are filled with different weighted materials, including barley, glass beads or even some kind of metal. Some of them are designed with covers to make washing them easy.

Who Needs a Weighted Blanket?

Weighted blankets can have a near magical effect on kids sleep. The consistent pressure makes for a relaxing feel, helping to transition the body into sleep. For kids who experience sleeping difficulties, the problem lies in their brain and body’s inability to calm down. As they struggle to ease themselves into a lower state of excitement, weighted blankets act as a physical aide to help them drift.

But weighted blankets are particularly beneficial for people and kids with special needs. Children with autism, for instance, do not process sensory information as well as others. So, while they crave this touch and pressure, they struggle to tolerate same touch from loved ones. Weighted blankets provide the calming touch those with special needs crave for, in the way they desire it.

Read on to learn how weighted blankets can help kids with autism, ADHD, anxiety and sleep disorders.

Weighted Blankets for Kids with Autism

According to Autism Speaks, kids with autism may be hypo-sensitive (under-responsive), with low sensitivity to pain, while others may be hyper-sensitive (over-responsive) enough to prefer tag-free clothing. Children with hypo-sensitivities usually crave touch stimulation, and a weighted blanket may prove to be the perfect intervention for improved sensory feel.

Here are some of the benefits of weighted blankets for kids with autism:

Improved Sleep
It is very common for autistic children to experience sleeping problems, so it can be exciting for any parent to discover how much weighted blankets can help. Due to the consistent pressure they apply on the body underneath, weighted blankets release serotonin – an important chemical that helps the body feel calm and stable. Autistic children often have low serotonin levels.

The release of serotonin not only makes the child feel calmer, but creates melatonin in the body. Melatonin is a body chemical that acts as a sleep aid, regulating the body’s sleep-wake cycle. It works like a clock based on your natural sleep schedule. Unfortunately, as autistic children are unable to produce sufficient melatonin levels, they struggle to have a regular and natural sleep schedule.

Many parents try to make up for the melatonin deficiency with supplements, but a weighted blanket is a great option too.

Improved Classroom Performance
Weighted blankets can directly and indirectly influence a child’s classroom performance. As you already know, improved sleep will indirectly yield improved performance in the classroom for your child. But studies have shown that the consistent deep pressure from weighted blankets directly impact children’s on-task behavior as regards fine motor skills like writing. Another study showed that autistic children experience improved on-seat behavior when they use weighted blankets.

Improved Transition Times
Children with autism often experience difficulties with transition – when they are required to stop a particular task and move on to a different one. Getting an autistic child to bed, for instance, is one of the toughest transition times for any parent. With weighted blankets, you may consider laying it on your child as they read on the couch; this can have some type of psychological effect on them as it can become a symbol that represents a time to get ready for bed.

Weighted blankets can also help children without autism. In fact, some teachers now use them in the classroom when children return from recess. Getting children to concentrate at this time can be difficult. But by dimming the lights and using the blankets for a 5- to 10- minute stretch, teachers are able to help children to transition into proper classroom schedule.

Weighted Blankets for Kids with ADHD

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most common mental disorder for children and, if left untreated, can continue well into adulthood. Children with ADHD experience more than usual impulse or hyperactivity, compared to other children their age. Good news is, a weighted blanket can serve as a therapy to aid treatment of this condition. Two ways weighted blankets can help children with ADHD include:

Improved Attention Span
According to a study by the American Occupational Therapy association, children with ADHD in school experienced a 15 percent improvement in attention span with weighted vests. Though vests, and not blankets, were mentioned here, the deep pressure simulation is the same. This means that weighted blankets can play a great role in improving the attention span of kids with ADHD.

Activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System
The sympathetic nervous system helps to boost the body’s heart rate and alertness. It is often activated when a person is faced with a stressful or difficult period. While the effects of the sympathetic nervous system are only normal for children and even adults, it can negatively affect the brain when it happened for a prolonged period of time. Sadly, this is the condition children with ADHD find themselves.

On the other end of the divide is the parasympathetic nervous system – one that is characterized by its serenity and calmness. Once the system is active, the heart rates becomes slower and the muscles relax. It also causes the production and release of endorphins which helps to relieve stress and make the body feel better.

As weighted blankets apply deep pressure, they aid the relaxation of the muscles and help the body switch from the sympathetic to parasympathetic nervous system.

Weighted Blankets for Kids with Anxiety

Grounding the Body
The pressure applied by weighted blankets pushes the body downwards – a process known as grounding. Research shows that grounding can help in reducing cortisol levels at night. Cortisol – a stress hormone – is produced as a response to stressful situations. Elevated cortisol levels can lead to anxiety, insomnia and weight gain.

The consistent pressure from weighted blankets can aid relaxation, ultimately triggering the release of feel-good hormones like serotonin and dopamine.

Weighted Blankets: Separating Facts from Fiction

The all-important question now is: Do weighted blankets really work for kids?

There are quite a few studies that have specifically examined the effectiveness of weighted blankets for kids. According to a 2011 study published in the Nordic Journal of Psychiatry, there was a noticeable reduction in the length of time it took a group of kids with ADHD to fall asleep. Another study published in Pediatrics also revealed that parents of children with autism reported an anecdotal effect on their children, even if the weighted blankets didn’t shorten the length of time it took them to fall asleep.

Other research works, though less specifically, have studied the effects of therapeutic treatments (including weighted blankets) – known as sensory integration interventions – on the sensory system of a child. According to a 2011 study published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, these interventions yielded obvious improvements to the sensory processing and social skills of kids. According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, autistic children who were treated with these interventions were reported to experience improvements in self-care and socialization.

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Tips on Choosing the Right Weighted Blanket for Your Child

Fabric
From flannel to soft cotton and satin-cotton, weighted blankets come in a variety of fabrics. If your child usually feels hot at night, cotton would be a better choice as its breathable fabric.

Fillers
The type of filler used for the blanket is another important factor. Many manufacturers still use glass beads, steel shot beads and poly-pellets for weighted blankets, but an eco-friendly filler is always the best option for a child.

Weight
As noted earlier, the user’s weight and size will determine the weight of the blanket. The blanket’s weight is very crucial to achieving its purpose because you wouldn’t want your child to feel too restricted while using the blanket. For children, it is recommended that they use weighted blankets that a 10 percent their body weight plus a pound or two. You may consult your child’s doctor or therapist to recommend the most comfortable weighted blanket for your child.

Blanket Weight Distribution
For a weighted blanket to be effective, there must be even distribution of the beads to ensure deep touch pressure stimulation. If the weight in the blanket tilts to one side, your child will not get the desired pressure throughout his/her body. Choose a blanket that has stitched pockets to hold the fillers. This way, you wouldn’t need to worry about the uneven distribution of the beads as the child makes any movements in his or her sleep.

Washability
The washability of a weighted blanket should also be considered because cleaning the blanket will be required at some point. Ensure you follow the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions so you do not damage the weighted blanket.

Safety Tips When Using Weighted Blankets for Kids

Though weighted blankets come with a wide range of benefits, there are a few precautions that can help you make the best use of them if complied with:

  • Do not use an adult blanket on your child. If you are using a weighted blanket for yourself, ensure your child does not have access to it as using it could be dangerous for your child due to the weight disparities. 
  • Teach your child to remove the blankets on their own. If you use a weighted blanket for your child when they sleep, teach them how to take it off on their own. They should know that the blanket must never be used to cover their head and neck. 
  • Never use it as a restraint. Children can get over excited at times and become hyperactive. Avoid trying to restrain them with a weighted blanket as this could be dangerous. 
  • Seek the consent of your child. You want to avoid scaring your child with the blanket, especially when it can help improve their special circumstances.

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Final Thoughts

If you have a child with special needs and are considering using a weighted blanket to aid their sleep, you are on the right path. The soothing and calming pressure that weighted blankets provide can help your child with special needs, or even children who just need an extra bit of help to fall asleep or relax after a long day.

Used correctly, weighted blankets can be a valuable asset in the toolkit of parents of children with special needs. It is an important part of a treatment plan that can help your child experience calmer and happier days and nights.

Cheers to better sleep for your kids, which is probably the dream of every parent. Hopefully, as your kids are able to sleep better, you too will get some extra rest and sleep!