The Hugging Quilt: Weighted Blankets for Autism

“He’s twenty years old, and my wife still tucks him in at night, offering a little prayer, making sure that a comforting weighted blanket covers him, and always getting his biggest smile for her effort.”   -Timothy Fountain, Raising a Child with Autism

At age twenty-five, it should have been easy. But it wasn’t. When the nurse lay my first born in the baby carrier in the back seat of the Volkswagen bug, my heart leaped to my throat. I had no idea what I was doing.

Photo courtesy of Walmart

My mother came to stay with baby and me that first week while my husband went to work. Her first lesson in taking care of an infant involved “swaddling”, or wrapping up my new daughter snugly in the freshly washed flannel blankets. “She has been cozy in your womb for nine months, and will feel safe if she arms and legs and held in,” explained my mother whose experience with new-borns was earned as the oldest of eight children.

Mom was right. She usually was.

But decades later I needed this information because I knew parents of an autistic boy. Their son had trouble sleeping, but seemed to improve when given a quilt that had been weighted. A child who is not sleep- deprived is easier to live with. But, how does a blanket change a child so drastically?


What is a Weighted Blanket?

Weighted blanket from Compound Living blog

A weighted blanket is just what the name implies: a bed covering which weighs four or more pounds, or 10% of the child’s body weight. The extra bulk provides warmth and the feeling of being hugged. That helps the body to release serotonin, which promotes relaxation and sleep. The extra weight facilitates settling down easier and then more quickly to sleep.

The deep pressure on the body from the weighted quilt creates sensations that mimic hugging, squeezing, cuddling and holding. This creates calm in autistic children who normally avoid being hugged. This causes the body to release oxytocin, producing feelings of security. Experiencing more time sleeping allows for sounder rest and less stress. Being less anxiety-results in increased focus and attention to tasks during the day.

Other Benefits to Weighted Quilts

Channeled blankets are beneficial for persons with cerebral palsy, ADHD, ADD, eating disorders, restless leg syndrome, or stress disorders like anxiety, or poor concentration. Maybe that is why I favor a heavy blanket in the winter months, pulling the coziness over my body and snuggling down into deep rest.

My mother’s swaddling may have set me up for a weighted blanket. It gives me the sense of closeness that I crave.

A hug all night long.

“Do not despise your lack of ‘expertise’ when it comes to raising your autistic child. Don’t despair because you feel small in the face of a tall order. If there were a perfect way to do the job, there would be a book with step-by-step directions, and we would all be following it.”  -Timothy Fountain, Raising a Child With Autism.


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