Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Weighted Blankets for Sleep Difficulties in Children With Autism

You may or may not have heard of "Weighted Blankets " - if however, you have endless issues with sleepless or interrupted nights with children with Autism or similar disorders, it may very well be the best thing you have ever heard of.

As a young girl (too many years ago) I spent most of my nights wondering the house without a thought of sleep. As I grew my sleep difficulties came along for the ride. The impact of these sleepless nights was not something I understood for a very long time. Now in my forties I am well and truly understanding what going without sleep can do to not only your energy but also the impact it can have all around our daily lives.

As I said, I am now in my 40's and these issues are still a problem for me, however now-a-days there are bigger issues that led me to my appreciation of using Weighted Blankets for sleep. In late 2010 my two very young sons were diagnosed with Autism. Both of these boys are on the spectrum but are very different in many ways. The one way that they did not differ was that neither of them "Just slept ". Having other members in the family and my own age, made it difficult to deal with the seemingly endless nights of constant battles to obtain sleep. It seemed most nights that we would finally settle one child and the next would step in to take his place, meaning that total sleep for us consisted of maybe a couple of uninterrupted hours and even then it would be either on the floor beside their beds or in our bed with both boys stretched out and pushing against us in the middle of the bed.

Once diagnosed we attempted sleep with the chemist made version of Melatonin. It took a few drops and for the first time both my boys were asleep within 30 minutes. Melatonin was great.... and so it went, however it started to take a few more drops to put them to sleep then it lasted a little less time (wakening at 3am) and then we started to realise how much of this chemist supply we were going through with two children using it. The cost for Melatonin varies but we never found it for less than about $55 per bottle (very small bottle) We were using more and more with less and varied results. This was about the time that I had the opportunity to try a Weighted Blanket. I had heard of them before, I remember that I dismissed the idea because my boys never would leave a sheet or blanket on, so I assumed that they would not leave the blanket on either. Then also there was the cost. Too much I thought to take the risk that they did not use it. --- I could not have been more wrong and I'm very happy that I was, my older son (now 5) took to the blanket quite well and started to sleep better in under a week. Jayden who was then still 2 (almost 3) did not like the idea of his legs being covered and also likes his arms free, for him we placed the blanket across the core of his body and left his legs and arms free. - During that week our last bottle of Melatonin ran out and we have not had to buy one since.

Now I am not saying that life is perfect, that is a bit much to ask from a blanket, however we will never do without the blankets again.

The big question - How do they work?

I could make it complicated and talk about "Deep pressure therapy" and " Spatial Awareness" but to keep it simple I will explain it this way. The Melatonin that was produced by my local chemist can just as easily be produced by our own bodies. A simple example is that when we receive a hug, our bodies' natural response is to release a chemical called Serotonin. This is what makes us feel good. Serotonin is our natural relaxant, but it is also much more. When the sun goes down and it is time for sleep, the Serotonin in our body changes. Melatonin is what is produced at night time and is necessary for sleep. Having the all over cuddle of a weighted blanket helps this Melatonin production and therefore helps with natural calming sleep.

Around April last year I started to stock and sell resources for families in our area with children who have ASD. The first thing we put out to show families were Weighted Blankets. We now stock not only blankets but weighted wraps sized for car travel or school. Both my sons have one of these smaller lap blankets in their bags in the classroom. They use them not for sleep but for calming when pressures in the classroom get too much. We also use blankets for their laps while travelling in the car. It keeps them calmer and allows me to concentrate on driving safely rather than dealing with meltdown. If you are dealing with sleepless children, do not wait. Make one or buy one or if you are lucky enough to find someone who will part with it borrow one. But one way or another give them a try. It took a week for my boys so be prepared that it may not happen the first night, but it may very well be the best investment for yours and you child's health that you ever make.

You are welcome to take a look at our weighted blankets - visit us anytime at

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