Undoubtedly, children on the spectrum experience the world differently than typically-developing children. Not only do many kids with ASD have difficulties socializing, communicating, and thinking flexibly , but their brains also tend to process sensory information unusually, often causing distress, discomfort, and confusion . One study published in Pediatric Research even states that "over 96 percent of children with ASD report [sensory] hyper and hypo-sensitivities in multiple domains." 
Weighted Blankets for Autism:
The Secret to Reducing Anxiety and Improving Sleep?
That's why it is no surprise that those with ASD tend to have higher levels of stress and anxiety than the rest of the population. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40% of children with autism spectrum disorder have clinically elevated levels of anxiety or are co-morbid with at least one anxiety disorder , such as Social Anxiety Disorder / Agoraphobia (17%), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (17%), Specific Phobia (30%), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (15%), Separation Anxiety Disorder (9%), or Panic Disorder (2%) .
Add to this that as many as 80% of children on the spectrum struggle with insomnia , and we have a recipe for extremely lowered quality of living. Indeed, one landmark study examining data from 2,700 children on the spectrum found that less sleep was linked to more instances of challenging behavior, attention deficit disorder, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder . That's why it is more important than ever for parents and caretakers to invest in therapies to help kids with ASD reduce anxiety, sleep better, and live more productive lives.
Weighted Blankets: A Promising Therapy for Kids with Special Needs?
One promising, low-risk, and affordable therapy tool that has gained significant popularity in the last two years  is the weighted blanket. Also known as heavy, compression, or sensory blankets, weighted blankets are blankets filled to a little above 10% of the user's body-weight (typically with poly-pellets or glass beads), to provide a firm yet gentle pressure over the entire body.
This pressure, known as Deep Touch Pressure or Deep Pressure Stimulation, has been shown to signal the body to switch from running the 'fight or flight' sympathetic nervous system to the 'rest and digest' parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for relaxation. This is crucial, because kids with sensory processing and autism spectrum disorders often have a hard time switching out of sympathetic nervous system activity, and easily fall back into it when retriggered.
That's why regular weighted blanket use has been shown to increase levels of the hormones oxytocin and serotonin, elevating happiness and relaxation levels, while decreasing levels of cortisol, the hormone responsible for stress - making them excellent tools for combating anxiety and sleep issues in children with ASD. But the benefits don't just stop there. Applied Behavioral Analysis EDU describes these positive effects of deep-pressure stimulation:
- A general sense of calm that can last up to a few hours after therapy
- Decreased overall anxiety when practiced regularly
- Increased happiness
- Improved social interactions
- Increased communicativeness
- Better sleep
- Improved focus
- Lowered incidence of seizures
- Lowered hypersensitivity to touch
- Improved ability to tolerate the school environment
- Decrease in self-injury
How to Use Weighted Blanket Therapy for Your Child
Much like the Temple Grandin's famous Squeeze Machine, which the autism researcher developed after noticing how cows became calmer and more docile when gently squeezed, weighted blankets are an effective calming tool for kids with ASD because they provide all the calming and relaxing benefits of a human hug without the feelings of confinement and restriction that kids with ASD tend to avoid. But unlike the Squeeze Machine, weighted blankets are much more affordable, may improve sleeping outcomes, and are extremely versatile.
Most parents use weighted blankets on their children before bedtime or during sleep, to help them depress their nervous system activity and prepare to go to and stay in bed. Another strategy parents often use is encouraging their child to wear the weighted blanket during times of heightened anxiety or overwhelm. This can help mitigate undesirable behaviors. But weighted blanket therapy isn't just limited to these situations. Indeed, many children enjoy wearing heavy blankets while watching TV or lounging on the couch, or playing in their sensory space.
As you can see, there really is no wrong way to use a weighted blanket. As long as the weighted blanket is selected to weigh about 10% of your child's body-weight plus one or two pounds, covers your child's feet, legs, and abdomen, and takes your child's unique needs into consideration, it can be an extremely effective tool to help reduce anxiety and increase both your and your child's quality of living.
The Best Weighted Blanket for Kids with Special Needs
While weighted blankets have seen an explosion in commercial popularity in recent years, this has only led there to be a surplus of weighted blankets designed for typically-developing kids, while kids with special needs aren't left with many choices catering to their unique needs. Fortunately, SensoryMoon, a company based out of New Jersey that develops affordable tools for kids with sensory processing issues, aims to change this, and has developed one of the first weighted blankets with features specifically with the special needs child in mind.
The SensoryMoon weighted blanket is one of the only blankets that comes with a U-shaped neck cut-out at the top, allowing the weighted blanket to better hug a special needs child than others. Not only does this add gentle deep touch pressure to the oft-neglected areas of the shoulder where a lot of stress and tension often resides, but it also allows the weighted blanket to be worn sitting up - in car rides, on the couch, and elsewhere. This is extremely valuable, because children with autism and other special needs tend to have higher levels of stress and anxiety all day long, so it is important to have a weighted blanket that isn't just limited to the bedroom.
The SensoryMoon weighted blanket also comes in a very special minky fabric outer cover, that has raised tactile dots on one side for added sensory input and stimulation, which children with autism often benefit from. The other side is a smooth gray plush, which is perfect for when kids just want to take a break from an overwhelming day and let their sensory input wash away. On warmer summer nights, this minky outer cover can actually be removed entirely to reveal the inner cotton duvet, which can be worn by itself for a cooling sleeping experience. And best of all, both the inner and outer covers are 100% washable, so accidents common with special needs kids should never be a concern!
Interested in getting this one-of-a-kind sensory blanket for a loved one with autism or sensory difficulties this holiday season?
Fortunately, SensoryMoon is gearing to hold its biggest sale of the year this Black Friday Weekend, making it the perfect time to purchase one for your child with sensory needs! From Thanksgiving at 9:00 pm EST until the following Monday, SensoryMoon's highly-rated weighted blankets will be at the lowest price they've ever been offered. But because stock is very limited, there is no guarantee every customer will get a chance to purchase one before the weekend is over.
So if you're really interested in gifting your child a blanket that will melt away their sensory stress and finally help them achieve the rest and relaxation they deserve, then check out the SensoryMoon Weighted Blanket product page and mark your calendar to purchase one as soon as the deals go live. You might not get this chance again...