Everything you need to know about using a weighted blanket for children, kids with autism, and the sensory benefits. Where to get them, DIY versions, and much more!
Have you ever had trouble sleeping? How about your child?
I’ve worked with a ton of kids that have difficulty going to sleep, and finding a solution is always at the top of the priority list. I remember when I showed up at Charlotte’s house for the first time, I was her OT and happened to be a friend of her Mama’s, too. As I walked into the living room, her mother turned to me and said, “What can I do to get her to go to sleep, take a nap, and stay asleep? I can’t keep going on like this.”
I looked up at her and saw her bloodshot eyes, but I could almost touch the stress that had reached me on the other side of the room. Charlotte was 2 and a half.
I knew her mom needed a quick solution, and as we talked, I learned that her mom was doing a lot right. She was consistently putting her to bed at the same time. She had a relaxing bedtime routine. She had plenty of opportunity for physical exercise. She ate well.
But, something was going on.
It was time to try an “extra” strategy, one that can make a huge difference for some kids (and adults). To find out if Charlotte would respond well to this “extra” strategy, I asked a few important questions:
- Was Charlotte very active, did she like jumping and climbing? (She answered YES!)
- Did Charolotte have a hard time laying still, was she fidgety? (Again, yes.)
- Did you ever notice Charlotte climbing into tight spaces? (Yup.)
- Does Charlotte like blankets? (Yes!)
That’s when I suggested Charlotte might benefit from using a weighted blanket.
What is a Weighted Blanket?
Naturally, Charlotte’s mom then asked me, “What is a weighted blanket?” A legitimate question…
While it seems kinda strange, a weighted blanket is exactly what it sounds like, a blanket that literally has small weights inside of it. The goal is to make the blanket so its a little heavy and applies a firm consistent pressure to the body that is underneath of it! Weighted blankets come in all sorts of sizes and textures (more on that to come).
Another twist on the weighted blanket is the weighted lap pad, which is simply a pillow or pad that’s heavy and can be laid across the lap.
Weighted Blankets and the Sensory Connection…
As with Charlotte, weighted blankets can have an almost magic affect on some kids sleep. The constant pressure can be very relaxing, decrease anxiety, and help the body transition into sleep.
For some kids (and adults) that have trouble sleeping, the problem lies in their brain and then body’s ability to actually calm down. For those of us that sleep well, it’s something we take for granted, but an actual shifting of gears takes place in our mind to physically prepare our body for sleep. When easing into a lower state of arousal isn’t possible, weighted blankets can be a physical aide to help our kids drift into sleep.
This difficulty with switching between our arousal levels is often linked to sensory processing. If that’s a new word for you (and it is for a lot of people), make sure you check out the beginner’s guide to sensory.
In particular, weighted blankets give proprioceptive input and tactile input. That input can be very calming and relaxing in general. It’s also why weighted blankets can also be used to relax at any time, not just for sleep. Look for more ways to use a weighted blanket at the end.
If you’re looking to incorporate using a weighted blanket as part of your sensory diet, head to the Free Sensory Diet Template PDF. And, if you don’t know what a sensory diet is, then check out “What is a Sensory Diet“.
Are Weighted Blankets for Autism, Children, or Adults?
Some children don’t process information from their senses as well as other’s, so they seek it out or avoid it more. A lot of children have unique sensory needs, and may respond well to a weighted blanket, and have no diagnosis. But, kids with Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) have definite sensory needs, which is why weighted blankets are often recommended for kids with these diagnoses.
But, sensory needs are unique to every individual, diagnosis or not. And, weighted blankets are an investment in money and/or time, if you’re making one yourself.
While it may be tremendously helpful for a child or adult with or without sensory needs, Autism, or SPD to use a weighted blanket to improve falling asleep or staying asleep, it also may not at all. In Charlotte’s case, she had no diagnosis, and the weighted blanket helped her a lot. She stopped climbing out of her bed so much and slept through the night when she had it on.
At the same time though, I’ve seen plenty of kids that it just didn’t work for. Kids that refused to try or screamed at the top of their lungs when it was laid on top of them.
That’s why its worth your time thinking through some signs that your child may or may not like a weighted blanket, because if they don’t like it, they won’t use it. And, we never want to force them to.
Signs Your Child May Respond to a Weighted Blanket:
- Loves sleeping or laying under piles of blankets or heavy comforters.
- Enjoys crawling into tight spaces or behind furniture
- Has difficulty (even after a lot of physical activity) relaxing and sitting still
- Likes wearing heavy sweatshirts and sweaters
Signs Your Child May Not Respond to a Weighted Blanket:
- Is tactile defensive (very sensitive to touching different textures)
- Does not like sleeping or laying under blankets
Of course, these lists are not absolute and aren’t guaranteed. If your child is old enough, I’d show them pictures of one online and explain what it is and how it feels. Ask if they think it would help them. Kids are often very tuned into their needs and will give honest answers. Lastly, if you happen to be working with an occupational therapist, ask if they have any available for you to “try” for a short period.
Types of Weighted Blankets
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1. Infused Weighted Blanket – As a therapist, these are my favorite because the weights are infused in between two pieces of fabric. They are easy to fold up. The weight is even. However, they are the most expensive. (This one is shown above)
2. Pocket Weighted Blanket – The majority of weighted blankets are created with a series of small squares, each holds a set of weights. These blankets often come in a wide variety of textures and colors. Duvet covers to go around the weighted blanket are also available but not necessary.
4. DIY Weighted Blanket – While they do require some time, they aren’t overly complicated and I’ve know a lot of people to make them. If you want an inexpensive weighted blanket and are willing to dabble in some sewing, this may be a great option for you!
Where to Buy Weighted Blankets
Weighted blankets aren’t something you run to Target for, so where do you get them from? Thankfully, you can now find them all over the internet. When I first starting working as an OT, you could only scoop one of these up from a catalog (hmm, I think that’s showing my age!) Here’s a great starting place to find them:
1. Amazon – With prime shipping and easy returns, this is often one of the easiest options.
2. Fun and Function – This is an online sensory store, created by an OT! I love their products here!
3. Etsy – You can totally go custom and find lots of unique patterns and textures.
Recommended Weight for Weighted Blankets (Important for Kids)
These are only guidelines, but too much weight may not be good for kids. You’ll also want to consider the actual size of the blanket. If it’s very large, a lot of the blanket won’t be touching your child so it can be a little heavier. Use these recommended weights as a starting place:
If a blanket is roughly the size of your child, then 10% of their body weight plus one pound is perfect. For larger blankets, like ones that cover the whole bed, you can have an additional 2-3 pounds on top of the 10% of their body weight.
For example, if your child is 40 lbs, a small weighted blanket should be around 5 lbs, and a larger blanket around 7-8 lbs.
Use your best judgement, and of course, talk with your child’s pediatrician or occupational therapist if you have concerns!
How to Use a Weighted Blanket
This may seem a bit obvious, but I want to give you some more ideas for how to use your weighted blanket!
- First and foremost, NEVER force a child to use a weighted blanket. You can demonstrate on yourself and encourage, but remember we’re talking about sensory input and a weighted blanket may actually feel painful to your child.
- When first presenting the weighted blanket to your child, pull it up slowly from their feet and lay it down on top of them. Ask them what they think!
- If your child could benefit from some calm down time outside of bedtime, try wrapping the weighted blanket around them while they sit on the couch or floor while reading, playing board games, doing homework, etc.
- Put inside a sensory tent that you use as a place to calm down. Your child can go in and use it whenever they need it!
- Weighted blankets can also be used in a classroom setting, as part of a sensory diet. Some classrooms have sensory tents or corners of their own. Head to Sensory Strategies for the Classroom to learn more.
Beyond Weighted Blankets with Sensory Help?
If you’re looking for more ways to help your child with sensory strategies, then check out the totally free workshop: How to Create a Simple Sensory Diet in 4 Steps
In this workshop, you’ll learn exactly how to leverage a sensory diet to help your child sleep, focus, and learn to their full potential. Click here to save your seat.
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Alisha Grogan is a licensed occupational therapist and founder of Your Kid’s Table. She has over 14 years experience with expertise in sensory processing and feeding development in babies, toddlers, and children. Alisha also has 3 boys of her own at home. Learn more about her here.