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The verdict is still out on weighted blankets as far as autism goes, but one thing is known for certain, parents, and their children who are diagnosed as on the spectrum, both seem to prefer weighted over regular blankets. There have been a few studies using weighted blanket, one in particular, published in the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2014 studied the use of these blankets on 67 children, ages 5 to 16. The Academy writes; “The use of a weighted blanket did not help children with ASD sleep for a longer period of time, fall asleep significantly faster, or wake less often. However, the weighted blanket was favored by children and parents, and blankets were well tolerated over this period.”
While sleep time wasn’t improved, the experience of the child was improved as a whole with the weighted blanket, leading researchers to believe that there may be something more to this therapeutic tool.
The autism spectrum is difficulty to describe in one or two symptoms. It can be a very different experience for every individual, with differing levels of severity. Some of the main symptoms associated with autism include communication barriers, difficulty socializing, repetitive behaviors, unique skill sets, and sensitivity to sensory experiences, such as light, sound, and touch. Autism Speaks reports; “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates autism’s prevalence as 1 in 68 children in the United States. This includes 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls.”
The reason that autism is referred to as, “the spectrum”, is because of the broad range of differences in those diagnosed. No two cases ever seem to be the same, making it difficult to treat one case the same as the next. Parents of children with autism tend to be the best experts, because they come to understand the specific needs and special skills of their own children. This is why the reaction of parents in the weighted blanket experiment was monitored by researchers. Their knowledge of what their child needs and enjoys was an important aspect of the experiment.
Weighted Blankets and Autism
Weighted blankets work by using deep touch pressure therapy, an evenly distributed weight which causes a pleasant sensory experience resembling that of a warm hug. Many children with autism have difficulty with physical touch, and many have trouble falling asleep without the help of a parent lying with them through the night. Deep touch pressure offers the sensation of a hug without the need for physical contact. It can go with your child wherever he or she travels, and will help produce the same calming effect at bedtime, as if you were lying beside him or her.
One thing that many children on the autism spectrum have in common is a sleep disorder. In fact, scientific resources suggest that as many as 80% of those on the spectrum have trouble sleeping at night, or staying asleep. This explains why the above-mentioned Pediatrics study was aimed at autistic children trying the weighted blanket for improved sleep.
Touch Therapy and Deep Touch Pressure Therapy
The deep touch pressure therapy used by weighted blankets works on a similar level as touch therapy, which has become another popular alternative treatment for autism patients with sensory issues. Touch therapy delivers low to moderate pressure in the form of a rub or massage. While using this therapy, questions have risen about its ability to calm autism patients who have an aversion to physical touch from strangers. This is where deep touch pressure therapy with a weighted blanket comes in particularly handy. It applies the same even gentle pressure with no need for human interaction. Emily Kuehn of Harvard University explains how important touch can be to somebody on the autism spectrum, she writes; “Patients can be hyper- or hypo-sensitive to tactile stimuli, meaning that they feel touch more or less intensively than other people. This can manifest in different ways in patients: some ASD patients cannot wear certain clothing because of very specific tactile preferences, while others may find the act of going outside stressful because stimuli like rain or wind can be unpredictable and painful.”
Stress and anxiety are enemies of sleep, because they increase heart rate and spike hormones which increase wakefulness rather than sleepiness. Weighted blankets may take some getting used to depending on the level of sensory simulation each person experiences.
Sleep and Autism
Sleep disorders are very common, but even more so in children on the spectrum. Individuals who have been diagnosed as autistic tend to have more trouble falling asleep in general, than other children. Autism.com explains; “Children with autism usually have some sleep pattern problems. Some “go till they drop,” then sleep very soundly all night, and are difficult to get started in the morning. Others have great difficulty getting to sleep and may wake often, or be very restless, winding themselves up in the covers, or even ending up on the floor.”
A weighted blanket is no cure-all for autism sleep troubles, but it does have the potential to help your child rest more soundly in terms of comfort, spatial awareness, and a pleasant sensory experience.
Choosing a Weighted Blanket
If you’re considering deep touch pressure therapy for your child, try a weighted blanket. Discuss the benefits of these blankets with your physician and ask him or her what your child’s ideal weight should be for their body type and height. Weighted blankets should weigh no more than 10% of your ideal body weight, plus one or two pounds.
Weighted blankets come in many styles and lengths, making it easy to select one that will work for your child’s bed, or as a travel tool for the school bus and family vacations. Take a look at the large assortment of soft cozy blankets provided by The Weighted Blankets company today.