The effect of pressure on the human body is powerful. While light touch / pressure alerts the nervous system, deep touch pressure has a relaxing, calming effect. Children with autism tend to prefer proximal sensory stimulation rather than distal. Proximal stimulation includes touching, tasting, smelling, and proprioception, while distal stimulation involves hearing or seeing. Weighted blankets, lap pads, or throws provide deep touch, proximal sensory stimulation that is calming to people with autism. As a woman with high functioning autism said, “I need heavy blankets on me to sleep well, or else my muscles won’t calm down.” (2)
The deep pressure of a weighted blanket is similar to a hug. It calms anxiety and releases oxytocin in the body, signaling that everything is alright. (3) For people with autism, weighted blankets can be a lifeline. For parents, teachers, and educators, weighted blankets can be a useful tool to help calm children with autism.