The extra pressure on the body is helpful for people of all kinds, but especially for individuals with autism spectrum disorder and sensory processing disorder. The added weight causes the brain to release neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine that improve moods and induce a calming effect. Using deep touch pressure soothes children with special needs. Thus, weighted blankets are designed for this purpose.
In recent years, the number of people with autism disorders and special education needs has increased, and stress and tension have worsened the quality of life for many people. Even the weighted blanket, which has become a popular invention recently, is not a medical treatment, it helps to alleviate and solve severe mental problems.
This method, which is recommended by different experts, is effective in more than 35 discomfort and disorders. For example, many people use this blanket against insomnia and sleep problems. As for the effects, researchers found that it gives people a sense of confidence. Sleeping with those blankets creates a feeling of hugging someone, so the nervous system relaxes.
In this article, mainly it has been explained that what weighted blanket is. In detail, the purposes, fields of usage, benefits or harms if there are any, therapeutic benefits and why people with autism spectrum disorder should use weighted blanket will be explained.
What Is a Weighted Blanket?
A weighted blanket, as the name implies, is a blanket with additional weight. They contain plastic granules that have been reported to have no health hazards. The most suitable one for you should be at least 10% of your body weight. However, choosing the right blanket is also a matter of preference. But how can a product as simple as a weighted blanket naturally increase your melatonin production?
The answer is easy which Deep Pressure Touch Therapy is. The weight that spreads evenly throughout your body compresses the nervous system. This compression directly affects a part of the nervous system, which is called the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The Autonomic Nervous System controls unconscious movements such as breathing, digestion, and heart rate. This system is divided into two parts.
One of them is the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). The purpose of the sympathetic nervous system is to stimulate the body’s reaction in stressful situations. Moreover, this system initiates the body’s fight or flight mechanism. It releases hormones that increase blood pressure, blood sugar and respiration.
The second part of the autonomic nervous system is the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS). PSNS, the opposite of sympathetic nervous system, dominates in calm and quiet times. PSNS calms the body by reducing blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration.
When you are in stress, your body is constantly in a fight or flight state. This greatly affects the way you think, how you sleep and your concentration time. When deep pressure therapy is applied to the body throughout a weighted blanket, the autonomic nervous system is balanced. The sedative PSNS is activated, the fight or flight status of the body is greatly reduced.
They are made by sewing pockets of hypoallergenic, non-toxic pellets into the fabric, evenly distributing the increased weight across the entire blanket. When draped naturally and evenly across the body, or part of the body, it provides just enough gentle pressure in order to release a few different chemicals into your system. Those chemicals are oxytocin, melatonin, and serotonin. Collectively, these chemicals relax the body, reduce stress, and induce a general feeling of happiness and security. In short, we can say that they help the autonomic nervous system to work.
Benefits of Weighted Blankets
How much benefit you will receive depends on your personal needs and use for the weighted blanket, and it varies from person to person. Even though it was originally designed for therapeutic usage, in today’s world, it has gained popularity.
Even it is called a weighted blanket and it might be the secret weapon parents are looking for as a parent of a special needs, such as autism spectrum disorder, cerebral palsy, sensory processing disorder, or a high-energy kid. The bed cover is filled with plastic poly pellets for a heavier feel that creates a natural calming effect in some kids.
In the beginning, weighted blankets were designed to use as a part of occupational therapy for children experiencing sensory disorders, anxiety, stress or issues related to autism spectrum disorder. But, by the time, it has started to use for any other cases. Even children without any diagnosis gain benefit from it. After a couple of weeks of usage, parents may observe that their children sleep well and more soundly, waking up happier and more focused than they have in ages.
They provide a feeling like a hug and come with all the same benefits. For example, the sense of happiness, well-being, and security you get from being hugged. They are not a medical device or produced to cure or even treat the symptoms of medical conditions. However, people who use a weighted blanket have benefited from its calming effects. Weighted blankets provide improving sleep quality, helping to relax, reducing stress level, relieving discomfort and encouraging well-being.
Therapeutic Benefits of Weighted Blankets
According to the results of some studies, it was stated that the use of a weighted blanket is an innovative and helpful tool in improving sleep quality among non-drug treatments.
When weighted blankets press the body, the secretion of serotonin in the body increases and thus we relax. Serotonin, on the other hand, converts to melatonin, the hormone that helps to sleep. This weighted blanket can also be effective in cases where antidepressant medication is required. Of course, this method cannot replace medical drugs and treatments, but it can be a supportive method in children and adults.
Experts have found that light blankets only stimulate the nervous system, and weighted blankets relieve and loosen people with pressure on the body. Weighted blankets can be an innovative, non-drug and complementary tool to improve sleep quality.
The pressure of the weighted blanket is an effective deep pressure touch therapy tool, which is a treatment used to help relieve the symptoms of many conditions. Although it is not designed to replace any kind of treatment or medical treatment, we can say that there are certain conditions that have seen improvements by adding a weighted blanket to their treatment.
There are various benefits of using a blanket especially in cases such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, and paranoia, which are caused by low secretion of serotonin in the body.
Some departments such as psychiatry, trauma, geriatrics, and pediatrics use such blankets to reduce stress and anxiety. Anxiety, sensory processing disorders, restless leg syndrome, insomnia, and sleep disorders, attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficits hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar, menopause, Alzheimer, Asperger’s syndrome and autism spectrum disorder are the all stress-induced or stress-resulting conditions that weighted blanket can be added into the therapeutic process.
Anxiety: Using a weighted blanket can have an extremely shooting effect on people have anxiety. In today’s world, most of us have experienced some form of anxiety from different things and events. Nevertheless, anxiety disorder is different than having anxiety resulting from some events. Those with anxiety disorders suffer from severe anxiety symptoms. These symptoms happen suddenly, without warning signs and without observable causes. So, weighted blankets are very helpful for those people. The pressure, a weighted blanket has, helps to release some chemicals in the brain which are known as relaxing the body, slowing heart and having a calming effect.
Sensory Processing Disorders: Weighted blankets have been used in order to help children in this condition for years, well before they were not popular as much as now. Because, as we know, those children have benefited from deep pressure touch stimulation.
Insomnia and Sleep Disorders: As we all can experience, there have been some nights that we have turned for hours with no signs of sleep. And when we finally have fallen asleep, we can still wake up tired and unrefreshed. Nevertheless, for us, for people without a sleep disorder, this situation does not happen every night. If a person has a sleep disorder, such as insomnia, he/she cannot remember the last time having a good night’s sleep. These are very frustrating and debilitating circumstances for anyone. So, a weighted blanket is also can be used by those with sleep disorders. With weighted blankets, people who are suffering from insomnia are able to sleep better, more comfortable and wake up feeling more refreshed.
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) / Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): It should be kept in mind that, using weighted blanket is never as simple as medication for a kid with ADD or ADHD. Because every child is different and responds differently to treatments. However, weighted blankets can be added to their treatments as boosting. They are safe and comfortable in order to help those children manage their hyperactivity and insecurity.
Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder: Children who are on the spectrum do not respond well to physical touch, even though sometimes they need it. Thus, parents can help their children feel safe and secure without touching throughout weighted blankets. This is the point that weighted blankets have been used in order to help children with an autism spectrum disorder. They can help them for sleeping, reducing anxiety level and improving focus.
Benefits of Weighted Blankets for People with Autism Spectrum Disorder
There are many methods of deep touch stimulation. One of these is the massaging using the palm of your hand to apply to your child with an autism spectrum disorder. Generally, massage is applied by pressing firmly on the joints.
Various clothes that contain weight and tightly wrap children and vests with weight inside can provide deep touch stimulation. It is used for therapy purposes in various tools and equipment such as compression machine and massage roller.
Children with autism spectrum disorder often lack communication and social skills; repetitive actions and behaviors and slow cognitive development are observed. Symptoms may occur even in children younger than 18 months. For those with autism, as well as for their parents, life can be quite challenging.
In this challenging process, weighted blankets can be used by laying it on the back or lap of an individual with autism or by covering it while sleeping. The deep pressure stimulus brought by the blanket helps serotonin production to feel more calm and peaceful.
Weighted blankets are particularly effective for children during periods of increased anxiety. It is basically designed for creating a sensory protection area for them. Because, on the other hand, also they use their blankets as a source of comfort.
Weighted blankets create a warm hugging feeling. It helps the nervous system relax by taking the shape of their bodies and providing pressure. The weight of the blanket stimulates the touch receptors in the body, providing deep touch therapy and creating a safe feeling.
Occupational therapists who use a weighted blanket after therapy explain these positive effects of deep compression simulation. For example, a general sense of calmness, which may persist even a few hours after treatment, reduction of general anxiety when administered regularly, increased happiness, increased social interactions and communication, sleep better, enhanced focus, ability to tolerate school environment and reduction in self-harm could be observed.
In many countries with a high level of autism awareness, parents use mainly blankets to help their sleep problems as well as their children with an autism spectrum disorder. Sleep disorder is very common for individuals with autism at any age. They help children to fall asleep more easily and also to sleep more deeply and comfortably by reducing movement. The deep compression applied by the weight of the blanket is beneficial in terms of ensuring the natural production of sleep-related chemicals.
The pressure and massage effect on the body supports the secretion of serotonin, which helps the person to feel good. When serotonin is naturally transformed into melatonin in the body, the body starts to rest.
Weighted blankets, which are perceived to be expensive at first glance, provide savings compared to other therapies and have no side effects considering the quality of sleep and the psychological and physical development of sleep.
Weighted blankets are a great and natural supplement to an existing treatment plan for children with an autism spectrum disorder or Asperger’s syndrome. If the parent thinks that their child may benefit from a weighted blanket, they should consult with their children’s doctors first.
An overwhelmed nervous system causes sensory meltdowns. Sensory input, for example, cuddling and deep pressure therapy, helps to calm the body’s fight or flight response. Weighted blankets make the children with autism feel safe, soothing their overly stimulated senses.
They have a positive effect on hormone levels. Compressing the body’s sensory receptors actually increases serotonin levels, which is responsible for happiness, by 28%. On the other hand, it decreases cortisol level, which is a stress hormone, by 31%.
Providing Sensory Input
They can be a great sensory input for children with autism. Some of them have dots which give an extra amount of sensory input. Thus, it makes them a great option for a sensory seeker. Also, it is something that those children with autism can bring along with them wherever they go, whether a home, a classroom, a movie or even a car ride.
Increased Spatial Awareness
When the child with autism lays under the weighted blanket, the fabric puts pressure on their sensory receptors. This sensory input allows the child to feel the body’s movements. They can sense when they move their hands or when their leg is up. This information gives them a better understanding of their body’s location.
Improving Transition Times
Weighted blankets can be a great way in order to improve transitions from one activity to another, which typically can be a problem for children with an autism spectrum disorder. The calming effect which comes from the weighted blanket gives the child the chance to settle down before starting a new activity.
Imitates a Hug
Children with autism spectrum disorder cannot handle the physical touch of even a loved one, most of the time. This lack of physical touch can cause many developmental problems. Weighted blankets imitate the feeling of a firm hug. This imitative hug gives the child the feeling that they are safe and secure as well as promoting their brain development.
Improving Sleep Quality
This is the main reason why parents buy one for their children on the spectrum. Because, as we all know, sleeping problems are very common, parents are usually very excited when they discover how much a weighted blanket can help.
Weighted blankets help to release serotonin, which is an important chemical when it comes to feeling calm, in the body due to the deep touch pressure. Children with autism are often low in serotonin and weighted blanket helps to enhance this level during sleep. Because serotonin also creates melatonin which is a chemical needed for sleep. Weighted blankets help to increase melatonin level, which controls the body’s internal clock, production, making it easier to fall asleep at night.
On the other hand, they can help improve sleep is that they calm down the nervous system and have been shown to reduce anxiety. Most of the time, anxiety is one of the factors that keep children with autism awake. Also, because of the weight, it keeps the body stable and reduces turning and tossing.
Increasing Focus and Attention
There is an organizational effect of deep pressure therapy on the brain. This effect reduces unwanted sensory seeking behaviors, such as fidgeting and stimming. Without these unwanted behaviors, the child with autism is able to sit and focus in class. That could be another reason why weighted blankets are used.
Improving Classroom Performance
As a result of other benefits, it also improves the class performance of children with autism. So, we can say that there is an indirect effect of weighted blankets on classroom performance.
Deep touch pressure has a positive effect on on-task behavior for children when it comes to fine motor skills, like writing. In other respect, children with autism have better in-seat behavior when they are using a weighted blanket.
Weighted blankets also help to reduce self-stimulatory behavior which is known as fidgeting or stimming. This can be a major factor for not being able to focus on children with autism. With less self-stimulatory behavior distracting the child, they can be able to focus on what they are learning in a class environment.
Benefits of Weighted Blankets for People with Asperger’s Syndrome
Asperger’s Syndrome is a high functioning form of autism. It is often associated with anxiety, sleep issues, and sensory processing disorders. So, weighted blankets also can be used for children with Asperger. For example, for better sleep, relaxation and regulation of emotions and providing additional sensory inputs.
Because of the fact that the symptoms of Asperger’s are not as severe as autism’s, there are not as many as benefits for people with Asperger’s syndrome. But obviously, we cannot say there are no benefits at all.
It should be kept in mind that if you or your child has a severe oversensitivity to touch or textures, the additional weight of a weighted blanket may feel too much. Everyone is unique, so there is no hard and fast rule about this issue. It is often a case of trying a blanket out to see how you or your child get on.