Weighted products can be used by children to help them be calm and focused and to increase their body awareness. This is because a sense of weight or pressure stimulates the proprioception sense. We looked at proprioception a few weeks ago, but to summarise:
Proprioception is a person's awareness of their own body in space. Proprioception works through an awareness of how our muscles are stretching and adjusts the contraction of our muscles as needed. It helps us to make adjustments in our joints and muscles to help us move our body and keep our balance.
Proprioception works when sensors in the muscles tell the brain about muscle stretch, tension and pressure. The brain needs information from many sensors or "muscle spindles" to control movements. The brain also gets information from tendons, joints and ligaments. All this information is processed in the brain which then decides if muscles need to be moved or adjusted.
Difficulties proprioception are common in children with special needs including autism spectrum disorders, sensory processing difficulties, motor difficulties, ADD/ADHD and learning difficulties.
Some signs of difficulty with this sense include:
Sensory seeking behaviours. These children seek out movement and information from their body by jumping, bumping, stamping, rough play and crashing into things. They love tight clothes, to be tightly wrapped and tightly hugged. They love activities which involve pushing, squashing or banging things such as play dough, squeezy toys and hammering activities. They may bite or suck their fingers.
Difficulty controlling the amount of movement needed. These children often appear rough and seem to often break things. They may push too hard or too softly on pencils, misjudge movements and be too rough with other children or pets. They may hug others too hard and slam doors. They may spill, drop or knock over things because they use too much or too little force when lifting or moving things.
Using weighted products allows children to receive information though their proprioception system and this means children's need to seek this information will reduce. This allows them to be more calm and focused on other activities and reduces unwanted behaviours. It also helps children to "fine tune" their body awareness and so control their muscles better, making them more accurate and efficient with daily activities.
Using weighted products is valuable because:
- they can have a calming effect
- they provide a sense of wellbeing
- they improve body awareness
- they improve a child's ability to focus and maintain attention
- they can reduce sensory seeking behaviours
- they can reduce self stimulating behaviours
- they are safe when used correctly
- they are non invasive
Weighted products can include: bed sized blankets, lap blankets, vests and neck straps. The type of product, the weight of the product, the length of time it is used for and the way it is used should be designed for the individual child's needs by an occupational therapist experienced in the correct use of weighted products. Products should not be heavier than 5 to 10% of body weight with lower weights for neck pads and lap pads. They should only be used with adult supervision. Some products such as vests require that the child has rest periods where they take the vest off for a period of time. An occupational therapist can design a schedule to introduce the product to the child and determine the best way to use it.
Weighted blankets can help children with sleeping problems. Many children with special needs find it hard to settle to sleep and to stay asleep. Using a weighted blanket at night can help with this. This is because a weighted blanket can provide the same deep touch pressure provided through touching, holding, stroking, and swaddling or wrapping. These things are often used to help young babies settle to sleep and many children gradually learn to settle themselves as their sensory system develops. Some children's sensory systems do not mature as expected and they continue to have difficulties settling and staying asleep. A weighted blanket can provide the same type of calming deep pressure to help these children settle to sleep and stay asleep. Children who like to wear tight clothing, use heavy blankets all year around, like to be tucked in tightly or carry around backpacks are likely to benefit from a weighted blanket.
Weighted blankets need to be used correctly and be the the correct weight for the child. The child needs to be able to remove the blanket by themselves and the blankets should never cover the child's face. An occupational therapist can advice on the correct blanket for your child and the right way to use it.
To discuss how weighted products may be helpful for your child make an appointment with a qualified occupational therapist. Talking Matters occupational therapists can advise you on what products are suitable for your child and how to purchase them. For more information about occupational therapy click here.
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