With the recent addition of Kevin, the Calming Koala to our list of therapeutic weighted products, we wanted to take the opportunity to talk a bit more about the benefits of weighted toys for children with autism and accompanying sensory issues.
Every parent is acutely aware of the fact that each new day brings a fresh batch of challenges. That’s simply the name of the game when you have a little one - there’s no escaping it. Some of those challenges have to do with sensory-seeking behaviours - the need to jump up and down, cuddle something, run fast, and similar impulses - that some children have. When that happens, your kid will need undivided attention, contact, or a firm hug to stop a temper tantrum from taking over.
Unfortunately, as a parent, you can’t always be there to comfort your kid. That’s why they need to learn how to self-regulate in situations in which they feel a sensory overload coming.
Weighted autism toys, also often referred to as sensory toys, can come in many shapes and sizes. Usually, they are weighted stuffed animals that are heavier than what you can normally buy in a toy store. What are these and why are they effective? Let’s find out.
WARNING: We do not recommend the use of weighted sensory toys for kids under two years of age due to the risk of SIDS.
Do Sensory Weighted Toys Need To Be Heavy?
Yes, they need to be heavy but not so heavy that a child cannot play with them safely. On the other hand, making them overly light would defeat their purpose.
With weighted toys, the benefits come down to proprioceptive input. Proprioceptive input is an umbrella term for cues that our brain gets from our joints, muscles, and connective tissues. It’s what leads to body awareness. When this input is missing (and, a lot of time, children with autism will have this type of sensory issue), the brain is not getting all the information it needs to calm down and relax and will kick into overdrive, making a bad situation worse.
Weighted toys (as well as weighted blankets) are there to wake up and shake up the proprioceptive sensory system so that the brain gets all the cues it needs to function properly.
What Are The Benefits Of Weighted Toys For Children With Autism & Other Developmental Challenges?
Sensory-seeking children feel very detached, antsy, and as if something is just “wrong” whenever their brain gets starved of body awareness signals that most of us are getting without ever noticing it. A weighted stuffed animal (like our Kevin) is a great way to enhance the underwhelming proprioceptive input that they are getting, and it can lead to feelings of calmness, relaxation, and sharpened focus. A lot of occupational therapists use sensory toys as a means through which kids get rid of pent up energy without having a feeling that they are in a session or being “treated” in any way.
Sensory weighted toys are completely non-invasive - your child can use them without having to feel different, and you also often don’t have to explain the presence of the toy in the child’s life. They like to play with it because it feels good, even though they don’t really understand why that is.
They provide much-needed sensory input whenever needed - instead of relying on a hug or pressure applied by someone else, a child can now self-regulate when they feel the need to do so.
- They also boost the feelings of calm, concentration, and aid with sleep issues - not getting appropriate and needed proprioceptive input can cause your child to be distracted or even unable to fall asleep easily. A weighted toy can help them concentrate better in school, as well as to sleep sounder and deeper when it’s time to go to bed.
6 Ways To Use A Weighted Autism Toy
Most children find the mere act of holding a weighted toy calming. However, there’s only so much holding that you can do in a day, right? It’s the same for your kid - or any other kid, for that matter. In order to truly integrate the toy into your child’s life, to make it a part of it, you need to invent fun games with it. In addition to making the time with the toy more enjoyable, an activity will provide extra proprioceptive and vestibular (movement, balance) input that can soothe a child’s overactive brain.
These activities are more geared toward a toy that’s a weighted stuffed animal (a bear, a dog, or even a koala). Most of the time, kids will take to these much sooner than to a nondescript weighted object, which is why occupational therapy experts tend to recommend them.
How To Make A Lovable and Fun Weighted Toy At Home
Making a weighted plushie that serves the purpose (up to a point) is not that difficult. And, we will show you how you can do it - in a minute.
However, there are plenty of reasons why you should give our weighted toy, Kevin, some serious thought, not the least of which is that he’s just so dang cute.
Though he is adorable, we are sure that you’re more interested in some of the other benefits that you get when buying a sensory weighted plushie designed and developed by a company that set out to deliver life-changing products.
Well, here are those benefits:
Carefully chosen weight and filling- our choice of filling material is safe, hypoallergenic, and allows us to make toys that pose no risk of injury for kids - of course, we’re talking about glass micro beads. These are the same ones that we use in all our weighted blanket, and our customers love them. For extra safety, these beads are placed in a sturdy inner bag so even if the toy rips, they won’t seep out.
- Superb design and stitching - we wanted Kevin to be upbeat and positive, which is why he’s sporting a huge grin! We also took care to develop a manufacturing process that ensures as few weak points as possible. The stitching is equal to none and will withstand the occasional roughness of child’s play.
Ultra soft plush material - Kevin can also help with certain other sensory-seeking behaviours. For example, if your child craves tactile input, Kevin’s super soft, long fibres can provide it. We wanted to make sure that he’s velvety and very snuggly, like a baby blanket, and we believe our choice of fabric accomplishes that very well.
- Cuddly shape & extra mobility - When it comes to the technical details of Kevin’s design, we wanted to make him as versatile as possible. His weighted arms are completely mobile, which adds s huggability factor - something that kids really love. Also, there’s enough weight in his behind and his back to allow him to sit, lie down, or assume any other position that you child needs him in to be comfortable when playing.
That said, making a sensory toy out of any stuffed animal that you have around the house should not be an issue. Sure, it won’t have Kevin’s winning personality or his enhanced therapeutic effect, but this DIY weighted toy can be very helpful in certain situations.
For example, it can be your designated ‘playground toy’ that your child carries with them when going out (we don’t recommend getting Kevin too dirty). Or, it can be a toy that you leave with your friends and family members for when you visit.
Here’s are the steps to follow when making a simple weighted stuffed animal:
- Find a small stuffed animal toy and prepare scissors, a sewing kit, and your choice of heavy(ish) filling material. For the filling, glass beads, tiny marbles, and things like corn are all an option. Glass beads are by far the best choice, which is why we went with them for Kevin.
- Cut a very small hole at the back of the toy (it shouldn’t be bigger than an inch). Carefully take out the stuffing by pulling it out but make sure to leave some of it in (around a quarter).
- Add a bit of your filler into the toy (a few rubber balls), and then add back a bit of stuffing. Alternate between the two until the toy is near your desired weight.
Check the weight and adjust if necessary. If the toy is too heavy, take out some of the weighted filling and replace it with the stuffing that was there. If it’s too light, do the opposite. After you achieve your desired weight, stitch back the hole that you made, making sure that the stitching will hold even if the toy is not handled very kindly. We recommend applying a few stitches on top of each other or using a sewing machine.
You now have a decent sensory toy that your child can use when they get distressed. Is it a koala? Probably not, but Kevin is just a click away should you ever change your mind!
Are You Ready To Get You Kid Their First Weighted Stuffed Animal?
In Australia, parents of children with ASD and sensory issues are starting to reach for solutions that are a bit out of the box and having success with them. We’re noticing that more and more with our weighted blankets, and now with our newly unveiled weighted toy. Also increasingly, educators and therapists are starting to use and recommend them, recognizing (correctly) that small things can have a huge impact on children with self-regulation problems.
The important thing to keep in mind is that progress doesn’t happen overnight. Your child will need a bit of time to get used to their new “heavy-set” plushie, and that’s understandable. Don’t force things - Kevin The Calming Koala is cute enough that they will want to play with him. And, after a while, they will know how to use his reassuring weight to get the sensory input they need!If you have any questions about Kevin, sensory toys, or weighted blankets, don’t hesitate to reach out to us by email or through Facebook. We would be delighted to help you figure out if our products can help you or your loved ones live a better, more relaxed and carefree life!