Remember a few years ago when weighted blankets were all the buzz for adults? Well, the trend has shifted to weighted stuffed animals for children and their uses are surprisingly similar. People who suffer from anxiety, ADHD, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) praised weighted blankets for their comforting and calming properties. Now, children with the same type of symptoms or conditions can experience similar benefits thanks to weighted stuffed animals.
What Are Weighted Stuffed Animals?
So first things first, what are weighted stuffed animals, and can they actually be beneficial to children who have ASD, ADHD, or anxiety disorders? According to studies, YES. So let’s talk about it.
As the name implies, weighted stuffed animals are plush toys that weigh significantly more than traditional stuffed animals. When you think of a regular teddy bear, it weighs almost nothing, but these weighted soft toys for autism, ADHD, and anxiety typically weigh between 2 and 5 pounds and come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and materials.
How Do They Work?
You are probably wondering how a stuffed plush toy that weighs slightly more than a typical stuffed animal could have calming effects. The theory behind weighted items such as animals and blankets is that the additional weight offers deep-pressure touch, a sensation that is said to have a calming effect on the central nervous system. It is also thought to mimic the feeling of someone hugging you, which triggers the release of serotonin and dopamine.
There have been studies on weighted items that show 63% of participants in the study felt less anxiety than before using them, while 78% of the same study reported that the deep pressure sensation did have a calming effect. In a different study, researchers found that weighted blankets acted as a sensory-based intervention to improve sleeping habits for children with ASD. We will dive deeper into the benefits of weighted soft toys for autism, ADHD, and other anxiety disorders in the next section.
How Do Weighted Stuffed Toys Work For Autism and ADHD?
As you may know, it is not uncommon for individuals with ASD or ADHD to also have sensory processing issues or tactile defensiveness. Our brains are constantly processing information in order to help us see, hear, touch, taste, and feel the world around us. There is also a lot of sensory information that our brains might filter out and tell us not to worry about, such as background noises, particular tastes, breezes, or the feel of our clothing. However, this is not always the case for children with ASD, ADHD, or sensory sensitivities. For example, these “non-threatening sensations” become a much more serious issue, causing feelings of stress and anxiety that can impede day-to-day activities.
These feelings can be so overwhelming because the brain is basically telling your body to go into fight or flight mode to protect itself from these threatening sensations.
Here are just a few of the sensitivities that children with sensory processing issues report:
- Issues with touch
- Does not like crowds of people
- Does not like loud sounds
- Texture Issues (clothes, food, etc.)
One of the most common ways to experience some of these sensitivities is through sensory exercises or deep touch pressure methods. Deep touch pressure has been successful in creating both short-term and long-term calming effects on a child’s nervous system. In the short-term, deep touch pressure lets the body know that there isn’t a threat and that it’s okay to exit fight or flight mode. If you have ever heard of someone giving a child a tight hug during a tantrum or meltdown, they are essentially using the deep touch pressure treatment to help calm them down. Unfortunately, it may not always be possible to hug your child during a stressful situation and this is where weighted stuffed animals and blankets come in.
Another way to help children with their sensitivities is through sensory exercises. The idea behind sensory exercises is to create a controlled environment where you slowly introduce your child to sensations that would otherwise be stressful to them. Parents typically perform these exercises with foods, clothes, and other dietary interventions.
The great thing about weighted stuffed animals is that they are fairly affordable, so it’s at least worth a try if you are a parent considering investing in one. Most of them are under $40 and can be a lot more affordable than some of the weighted blankets on the market.
At Simple Spectrum, we know that each day can present a new set of challenges for parents of children with ASD, ADHD, or other sensory processing issues and that is why we hope to be a great resource for you and your family. From the latest information on the newest deep pressure items (such as weighted stuffed animals) to the best nutritional supplements for children with dietary deficiencies, Simple Spectrum has got you covered!