Samantha Snow, a school based Occupational Therapy Assistant, explains the process of therapist recommendations on the use of sensory weighted blankets and their extreme benefits in academia for children with sensory issues
As a school based Occupational Therapy Assistant, teachers and parents often ask about weighted blankets. More specifically, how the use of these blankets in the classroom can increase the academic success of their child or student.
Stage 1: Explanation and Fit of the Weighted Blanket for Children
I begin by explaining to the parents or teachers how the blanket is intended to work. A weighted blanket is designed to mimic a “hug” effect – like one from a parent - to stimulate touch receptors. These receptors are receptors located in a person’s skin, muscle’s, and joints. The receptors induce a calming effect by releasing serotonin to the brain, which in turn relaxes the body.
After this, we discuss the issues that the child may have, and which of these could be benefitted from using the weighted blanket.Some of these issues that the child may have include difficulty with attending to a task, sitting down for extended periods of time, maintaining position in lines when transitioning between classes, in keeping hands and feet within personal boundaries, in inflicting self-abuse or has been a victim of abuse, and in aiding in the management of anxiety or depression. These are some of the most common reasons for using a weighted blanket.
Stage 2: The Uses and Plans
The behaviors described above can be mistakenly viewed as purposeful behaviors, and sometimes they are, but most likely the child is innocently seeking input for sensory regulation.Once the problem is determined, then we can devise a plan. When creating a plan for use of the blanket in the classroom, one must consider the preferences/tendencies of the child and the point at which the “seeking” behaviors are exhibited.The time and location in which the behaviors occur are key factors in determining what may be a trigger of stress, decreased attention/lack of focus, or cause for excessive movement.The transition from drop-off to classroom is a busy time. It can be noisy and crowded as students make their way to the classrooms.
The nervous system is bombarded with sights, sounds, and smells after waking from a night’s rest. The cafeteria can invoke the same experience. Also, prepping for and taking exams can be stressful for some students. Children are supposed to wiggle, be active, and explore their environment, but it becomes problematic when the child’s academic success declines because the child can’t regulate the sensory input appropriately. Use of the weighted blanket during these times can greatly improve a child’s academic success.
Stage 3: Execution of the Plan and Safety Precautions That Should Be Taken
When a plan is in place as to when or where the blanket will be utilized, proper use and safety precautions are discussed with the parent or teacher before the blanket is ever used. Weighted blankets can be used by anyone; however, there are specific guidelines required for the use of a weighted blanket to ensure utmost safety and full use of its capacities.
Only a certain percentage of weight should be used in the blanket. The Occupational Therapist/ Assistant, child’s physician, parent, teacher, and school nurse should monitor any weight changes or adverse reactions and communicate concerns accordingly. The school nurse or child’s doctor is helpful in obtaining/documenting an exact body weight of the student to ensure that the weight placed in the blanket is correct.
A student should be self-controlled with use and the blanket should never be used as a restraint. Other safety precautions to consider include lifting restrictions, respiratory difficulties, orthopedic injuries, or cardiac issues. The blanket should never be used above the neck or to cover the head as this introduces the risk of suffocation. Again parents are always encouraged to discuss the plan to incorporate the use of the blanket at school with the child’s physician and to obtain a medical clearance if necessary. I find it helpful to ask the parents to take the blanket home and try it for themselves to give a better sense of understanding how the input works to calm the nervous system.
Weighted Blankets – Different Ages
I haven’t encountered a teacher that doesn’t intercept the idea of a weighted blanket being used in the classroom as a positive. Teachers are great advocates of the children that are under their care and will be more than happy to do whatever it takes to make a child feel comfortable and be successful in the classroom. If possible, it is good to have at least a couple of children (or the teacher)use a weighted blanket so that a child doesn’t feel isolated amongst peers.
I have found that this usually isn’t an issue for Pre-K or Kindergarten students because nap time or a rest period is included in the school day and it wouldn’t be uncommon for children to have a favorite blanket to snuggle with during that time. Older children do, however, become more sensitive to their environment and opinions of others.
If there is a child that enjoys the benefits from the blanket but expresses apprehensiveness about using it amongst peers, then it is important to try to provide that child an opportunity to use the blanket at a time that can be more private.
When purchasing a weighted blanket by the parent or school, it is important to find your child’s best fit. Whether it is the weight, size or fabric, the weighted blanket needs to be the ultimate comfort space for your child. As the blankets need to withstand daily use, it is important to find blankets with durable, safe and child-friendly materials.
The use of a weighted blanket in the classroom extremely help with sensory issues and is certainly worth promoting a child’s confidence and academic success. These blankets are also great for use at home, during relaxation time, study time and bedtime.