For children with a Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) or autism, textile input can be overwhelming. The tag on their shirt is too itchy, or they only prefer certain fabrics. For many autistic children, even a hug from a loved one can be overwhelming.
Their senses are in control of every thought, and their brain cannot organize sensory input. This overwhelming amount of unfiltered information causes emotional reactions and sensory seeking behavior.
Many parents don’t understand why their child is acting out. But by providing appropriate sensory input, you can decrease unwanted sensory seeking behavior.
For years, occupational therapists have been using weighted therapy blankets as a natural therapeutic 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 Therapy Blankets Work?
Designed to weigh 10% of your body weight, weighted therapy blankets evenly distribute weight across your body. This proprioceptive input is scientifically known as Deep Pressure Therapy (DTP).
Deep Pressure Therapy has a profound effect on a section of the nervous system called the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).
The ANS controls unconscious actions, such as breathing, digestion, and heart rate. This system can be further broken down into two divisions. The Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) is responsible for the body’s “fight or flight” response. When the body is under a perceived attack, the SNS releases hormones that increase blood pressure, blood sugar, and breathing.
The second division of the ANS is the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PSNS). This division is the compliment to the SNS. It calms the body down 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 “fight or flight” activity, while increasing PSNS activity.
What Are the Benefits of Weighted Therapy Blankets?
A woman by the name of Temple Grandinhas been a huge advocate for Deep Pressure Therapy. Diagnosed with autism herself, she would crave deep pressure during her childhood years.
As she grew older, Grandin began to realize how important this deep proprioceptive input was for her day to day life. She even went on to build her own “Hug Machine” to administer deep pressure to calm anxiety.
But why are therapeutic tools like a weighted therapy blanket so important?
Researchers found that Deep Pressure Therapy increased serotonin by 28% and dopamine 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%. When cortisol levels are high, the body goes into “fight or flight” mode.
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.
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.
Natural Therapeutic Aid
Many kids with autism, ADHD, and SPD are on medication. Although helpful, these medications have huge side effects.
Weighted therapy blankets are a great supplement to an already existing treatment plan. The natural calming effect can be achieved without taking more medication.
If you have any questions about weighted therapy blankets, please let us know in the comments below. We would love to help!