What are fidget blankets?
Fidget blankets are therapeutic lap-size quilts with various items sewn onto them for a person to play with, including buttons, beads, clips, gears, and plush toys. Some are designed to help develop or retain fine motor skills, and others just provide comfort and stress relief. The familiar objects on sensory quilts help users self-soothe and serve as a source of visual, tactile, and sensory stimulation. They often come in soothing pastel or cheerful bright colors and patterns, and may be themed around a particular interest, hobby, animal, etc. Fidget blankets are also known as fidget quilts, activity blankets, busy blankets, and sensory lap pads. Most fidget blankets are handmade by people running small home businesses.
Who can use a fidget blanket?
Fidget blankets are for almost anyone! They were originally developed for elderly people with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia who need sensory input to cope with restlessness and confusion. But they’re also great for children and adults on the autism spectrum, those with ADHD, sensory processing disorder, developmental disabilities, stroke, brain injury, and anyone else who benefits from stimming — sensory stimulation. Stimming helps neurodivergent people cope with stressful situations and self-regulate when we struggle with loud noises, bright lights, and other sensory processing challenges. As an autistic adult, I like lots of different stim toys, but fidget blankets and other soft fidget items have become important tools in my sensory toolbox.
Who should not use a fidget blanket?
Busy blankets may not be appropriate for children under 3, kids and adults with pica, and individuals with cognitive disabilities who tend to rip and tear fabric. Although most makers of sensory activity mats sew the items on securely, if your loved one is able to rip the ribbons or fabric, small objects such as beads could become a choking hazard. We’ve included activity mats with a wide variety of attached items so you can find one that is safe for the person who needs it. We also recommend that you supervise their use of the fidget quilt until/unless you can be sure of their safety.
Do fidget blankets work?
Yes, studies show that the use of a fidget blanket helps reduce behavioral and psychological symptoms of dementia such as anxiety, irritability, insomnia, and agitation. They can have similar benefits for anyone who struggles with these symptoms, including autistic people and those with ADHD or mental illness. If you think you or your relative could benefit from an activity mat, give it a try!
What kinds of items should you sew on a fidget blanket?
Fidget quilts often feature buttons, ribbons, sequins, beads, pockets, small plush toys, and multiple fabric textures to provide lots of different sensations. Some people add scented items that promote relaxation using aromatherapy, especially lavender. My favorite sensory quilt has super soft minky fleece as the background and on the side that lays against your body. The flower stems are made with satin ribbon, and the petals of the flowers are made with cotton in various textures and colors. The center of each flower is a button. There are two strings of beads on ribbons to spin, and a small section of reversible sequins that change colors depending on which side is showing. All of these items are very satisfying to touch and fulfill my natural need to stim as a neurodivergent person.
If you’re making your own fidget blanket, you can sew anything and everything you want on it. If you’re buying a sensory mat or board for yourself or a loved one, consider their abilities and goals first. For example, if you have a child with cerebral palsy who is working on fine motor skills in occupational therapy, you might get them a busy board with switches, lights, buttons, and buckles to practice. But if you have an elderly parent with Parkinson’s disease or arthritis, items that require hand dexterity and strength may be painful and frustrating to use.
What are the benefits of fidget blankets compared to other fidget toys?
Fidget blankets offer several advantages over other kinds of sensory toys you or your family member may have tried. For starters, they’re quiet. Unlike spinners or cubes, most if not all of the items attached to them are silent when you play with them. So if you need to stim at work or school, sensory mats are a great option. They’re soft and comforting to hold, and if you really want something cuddly, try a fidget pillow! Although busy blankets aren’t as compact as other fidget toys or fidget jewelry, it’s easy to roll them up and carry them in a backpack or purse.
Fidget Blankets and Soft Sensory Toys From Small Businesses
Here at the Ability Toolbox, we always support buying from small businesses if you can. Since fidget blankets can help people with very diverse needs, buying from an artisan is often your best option, as many sellers offer custom blankets that can provide exactly what you or your loved one needs. If you don’t need customization, we know it can be frustrating to wait a long time to receive things you order online, so we’ve listed several designers who have sensory items in stock and ready to ship.