As you sit here reading this article, your brain is analyzing input from your environment. The neighbor’s dog may be barking. Or the kids are watching TV in the other room. You may feel a breeze from the ceiling fan, or the weight of your sweater on your body.
Your brain takes this sensory input and filters it by importance. However, for kids with autism, ADHD, and sensory processing disorder (SPD), this organization process is difficult. Why?
Because their nervous system is overstimulated.
Their brain is unable to determine which sensory input is more important. The overwhelming amount of unfiltered input causes emotional reactions and sensory seeking behavior.
Although there is no cure for autism, ADHD, or SPD, there are ways to ease your child’s symptoms.
For years, occupational therapists have been using weighted blankets as a naturaltherapeutic tool. Weighted blankets put gentle pressure on your child’s sensory receptors. This tactile sensory input has a calming effect on the mind and body, which helps regulate emotions.
How Do Weighted Blankets for Kids Work?
To understand how weighted blankets work, we need to first understand the nervous system.
The nervous system is a complex network of nerves that carry messages to the brain. It can be broken down into different categories, one of which is the Automatic Nervous System (ANS).
This system controls unconscious actions, such as breathing, digestion, and heart rate. The ANS can be further broken down to the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS).
The SNS is the body’s “fight or flight” response, while the PSNS is the exact opposite. It calms the body by decreasing blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing.
Research shows that evenly distributing weight across the body compresses the nervous stem. This Deep Pressure Therapy actually reduces SNS activity, while increasing PSNS activity.
Not only does Deep Pressure Therapy calm the body, but it calms the mind as well. Researchers found that serotonin increased by 28% and dopamine increased by 31%. These “happy hormones” have a direct and positive effect on mood and behavior.
Researchers also found that the stress hormone, cortisol, decreased by 31%.
6 Benefits of Weighted Blankets for Kids
These combined effects of Deep Pressure Therapy have a lasting impact on your child’s day to day life. Let’s take a look at the benefits:
1. Improved Spatial Awareness
Children with an underdeveloped proprioceptive system have poor spatial awareness.They may seem clumsy, bump into walls, or fail to understand direction words. This is because their brain is unable to identify where specific body parts are in relation to one another.
One way to improve this system is with proprioceptive input in the form of Deep Pressure Therapy.
The extra weight of the blanket allows your child to feel their movements. This gives them a better understanding of the location of their body.
2. Improved Focus
When children are unable to focus, it is because they are in sensory overload. Their brain cannot filter incoming sensory input, making everything a distraction. In this overwhelmed state, children begin to engage in stimulatory behavior.
Deep Pressure Therapy filters and prioritizes sensory input. This organizational effects helps put an end to unwanted sensory seeking behaviors. Once your child is in a calm and organized state, they are able to concentrate at the task at hand.
3. Improved Sleep
Increased serotonin production elevates your child’s mood, calming anxiety before bed. Serotonin is also used in the production of melatonin. This hormone tells the body when it is time to go to sleep. When melatonin production is high, sleep is deeper and more restful.
4. Transition Aid
Children with autism have a hard time transitioning from high to low energy activities. This is especially noticeable when they come home from school or before bed time. The calming effect of the blanket gives your child the chance to settle down before starting a new activity.
Many teachers in special needs programs have turn to weighted blankets in the classroom. When their students come in from recess, weighted blankets are handed out. After around 10 minutes, students are ready to start class.
5. Reduces Anxiety
Children with autism, ADHD, and SPD have low serotonin levels. Medications like Ritalin and Adderall give serotonin boosts and this is why they are so effective. However, weighted blankets are a natural. This means that they can get a serotonin boost, without taking more medication.
In one study, researchers found that the application of Deep Pressure Therapy helps ease anxiety. They noticed that compression treatment calmed the body’s natural “fight or flight” response.
6. Calm Meltdowns
For children with SPD, even the simplest task can trigger a sensory overload. Their senses are in control of every thought, and their brain simply cannot cope.
The calming effect of weighted blankets makes your child feel grounded. The organizational effect of the Deep Pressure Therapy makes them feel less overwhelmed. And the proprioceptive input from the blanket acts as a hug, making them feel safe.
We’d love to hear how your child has benefited from using a weighted blanket. Let us know in the comments below!