Kellista Rae Keaton – a loving mother and Occupational Therapist, discusses the different ways to use weighted blankets to deal with anxiety, help in calming down and more
“I need my heavy blanket!” my daughter frantically screams from our living room. Much as a typical child may shout for a band-aid when they are hurt, or water for when they are desperately thirsty, our weighted blanket is a necessary item in our home.
My daughter, diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) at age four, often refers to our weighted blanket as the ‘heavy blanket’.
When we first got it, she told us she hated it. Then I would find her cuddled underneath it while watching TV or looking at books. Next, she began asking to take the blanket with us in the car or to restaurants. Like everything else, she has had to come around to it on her own terms. Now three years after her diagnosis, she’s added other calm down tools to her collection but the ‘heavy blanket’ is still her ultimate favorite.
So, how do weighted blankets work to calm individuals with sensory needs such as SPD or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)? If you know anything about a human’s sensory system, you know that the proprioceptive system is our sense of joint motion, acceleration, or motor control. Deep pressure to the body helps regulate this system as it works in conjunction with the body’s vestibular (balance) system. A weighted blanket gives an individual with a disregulated proprioceptive system that deep pressure touch they need to feel calm and safe and deal with anxiety.
The proprioceptive system (Source: Wikipedia)
We all have sensory needs so if you can imagine how you like or dislike having a lot of blankets on you at night, you can kind of get a feel for how a weighted blanket may help regulate a child with sensory needs.
However, weighted blankets aren’t just for lying around in or sleeping in. They can be used for so much more!
Here are 6 great ways you can use a weighted blanket for therapy needs.
1. Use it as a blanket
If your child needs help getting to sleep or staying asleep, this blanket can help give them that deep pressure input, or a cuddled feeling, to stay asleep at night. However, be sure to look at the safe ways to use a weighted blanket written below.
2. Use it as a lap pad
In school or at home some children with sensory differences struggle to sit through a lesson or lecture. Children will report that they just can’t sit still and feel wiggly while trying to focus. The weighted blanket can be laid over the legs so the child feels some deep pressure touch while they are sitting, and can then focus on the lesson.
3. Use it for heavy work
This is one of my favorite ways to use the heavy blanket with my son who has ASD. He doesn’t like using the blanket as a calm down tool because he is often running too low or under stimulated and needs sensory input to bring him up to regulation. So we put the weighted blanket in a small wagon and pull it around with stuffed animals inside. Or he drags it around the house and shows me how strong he is, just like a strong bear or tiger!
4. Use it for anxiety inducing situations
My daughter is absolutely terrified of the dentist so I got the idea to take her weighted blanket to our next appointment after she complained that it was cold in the dentist’s chair. She told me later that using the blanket during her dental cleaning made her feel safer and less scared of the sound of the tools the dentist was using. Try yours out at the dentist, at the doctor, or anywhere else that your child gets anxiety.
5. Long car rides
My children love car rides but after a while my daughter will complain that she just feels like she needs to move. We plan lots of stops but having a weighted blanket in the car not only prepares us for #4 above but it also helps if we have to go on a road trip for over an hour. She is able to play car games and watch a tablet with the weighted blanket on in the car – keeping her still and calm.
6. Use it in a swing
I think the best way to introduce the weighted blanket is adding it to another calm down tool for your anxious child. Often that involves a sensory swing of some sort. We introduced the weighted blanket while my daughter was in her favorite swing at occupational therapy. She loved how she felt “cuddled” by the swing and blanket combo.
So now that you know a few ways to use your weighted blanket for therapy, let me caution you as to ways NOT to use the blanket.
To keep your child safe, never use a blanket that is too heavy for children to put on and remove by themselves – most blankets will have weight instructions and recommendations. The ideal weight is 10% of your child’s body weight plus 1 pound. So, for example, a 40lb child would need a weighted blanket of 5lbs.
Weighted blankets should be used with a child’s consent. Never force a child to use a weighted blanket, even if you believe they may benefit from it. You can continue to introduce the weighted blanket or offer it until they feel comfortable. Remember children with special needs may be resistant to new tools, but keep offering.
Never allow children to use a weighted blanket over their head or to be wrapped in a weighted blanket, doing so could be fatal. Ideally, weighted blankets should be used over a child’s body up to the waist or shoulders.
Weighted blankets should not be used for children under the age of 5.
When used safely, the benefits of a weighted blanket are vast.