An Occupational Therapist from New York, explains why Weighted Therapy Blankets work and gives some great examples on how to use them effectively
The weighted therapy blanket is not a new concept to the world that surrounds us. The principle of it is widely used in many disciplines across the health field and often times providing dual benefits; turn positivity it is considered a unique replication of human touch. Dentists use these heavy blankets during x-rays and root canals, psychiatric wards use them on anxious and/or depressed patients, and acute inpatient care facilities use them to aid in the post-trauma recovery process. Every day, humans naturally use the principle of deep touch pressure to benefit others—to calm them down, to express love, to relieve stress, and to celebrate occasions. They also unconsciously use deep pressure touch – like an extended and firm hug – which psychologically creates a feeling of protection, safety, and grounding.
Feeling safe, happy, and secure in your environment, psychologically and mentally, fosters concern positivity within an individual. In a confidence-boosting environment, both children and adults are able to adjust to inconveniences, surprises, and self-regulate their own moods without meltdowns or tantrums. Weighted therapy blankets provide these benefits.
The theoretical model behind weighted objects is based on the simulation of the deep pressure touch on the central nervous system, which releases neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine. Serotonin released in the body directly correlates with better moods, increased appetites, learning ability, and better quality of sleep. Weighted therapy blankets are used during sleep to increase sleep duration and decrease disruptive sleep patterns.
The sensation of deep pressure, through a variety of ways, also triggers the parasympathetic nervous system to be engaged. The commonly referred to “rest and digest” system creating equilibrium in the body, allows for repairs to be done, and literally, allows you to relax.
The biological benefits of a weighted therapy blanket are applicable to a variety of age ranges and life stages, but they are particularly effective with children. Some uses of the weighted therapy blanket for children are conventional and typical, and other health and psychological benefits can be achieved through the creative use of the weighted therapy blanket.
Conventional Uses of a Weighted Therapy Blanket
Note: General recommendations include avoiding use with children under the age of two, adults with limited mobility, and persons who are unable to remove it independently.
Wrap the weighted therapy blanket around the shoulders during a more sedentary activity such as book reading, homework, or an activity that requires taking turns with another person in an interactive game. Encourage the wearer to pull the weighted therapy blanket tighter around their body when they feel more anxious. This could be useful during a game that involves a reluctant child participating in a new activity or being independent in a new skill.
Use the weighted therapy blanket as the main comforter during sleep or nap time. Consider the recommended weight of 10 percent of the user’s body weight plus one or two pounds. Avoid using over the mouth area.
Wear the weighted therapy blanket during a long event such as meal time, a church service, a school test, or a presentation to encourage sustained attention and alertness during activities.
Creative Uses of a Weighted Therapy Blanket
A Human Roll-Up
Pretend your child is the main part of a rolled-up or smash-able food such as a taco, hot dog, sushi or PB&J by putting them inside the weighted therapy blanket on their back with the arms tucked in by their side. Add any extra ingredients and wrap the weighted therapy blanket tightly around them. Enjoy the delicious meal you have created while providing a deep pressure touch to the child’s body.
Rolling Puzzle Pieces
Separate the puzzle and the puzzle pieces by about the width of the weighted therapy blanket. Lay the child on their back and have them reach across their body to get a puzzle piece. Have them hold the puzzle piece in their hand with hands by the sides. Start rolling them up inside the weighted therapy blanket. Go slowly at first to ensure the child can tolerate the vestibular (rolling/spinning) movements. Once fully rolled up in the weighted therapy blanket and in front of the puzzle board, encourage the child to wiggle their arms out (some loosening or an extra unroll of the weighted therapy blanket might be necessary) and place the puzzle piece correctly. Roll back across the floor to retrieve another puzzle piece and repeat.
Demonstrate wrapping the weighted therapy blanket around a stuffed animal or doll that is scared or nervous. Use words that describe the weighted therapy blanket which helps the animal, feel safe and confident. Display holding the animal in a hugging position or swaddle while walking around somewhere and using deep breathing to calm and regulate.
Stress isn’t always as visible and obvious in children, and especially at younger ages. Theories and research present ideas that children with sensory processing difficulties, autism, ADHD and other disorders have a tendency to be in the “fight or flight” mode more frequently and for longer durations than their peers. The use of a weighted therapy blanket can help turn off the sympathetic nervous system and turn on the parasympathetic system, allowing for rest and recovery from stress and stress-inducing activities.
The overall usage of a weighted therapy blanket with children might fluctuate between a weekly need, a daily need (sleeping), or a specific crisis-centered event (hyper-sensational environments). Some children will gravitate towards the idea of a weighted therapy blanket without much modeling or prompting. Others might require some lengthier teaching and learn to understand how the weighted therapy blanket can help them regulate their own emotional needs and feelings.
Nevertheless, you should always discuss the weighted therapy blanket options with a professional to ensure your child is safe and receiving the most from this experience. Each child is different and unique and therefore requires personalized activities with the weighted therapy blanket to target their specific needs.
Weighted therapy blankets are a great option for OT’s worldwide to use with clients and I am thrilled when using mine.