What is weighted blanket sensory therapy? You’ve probably seen it before. You’re browsing the cereal aisle looking for your favorite breakfast food, vaguely aware of the mother and two small children at the other end. A crash sounds and crying ensues, but it doesn’t end there. What should be an easy cleanup of boxes placed back on the shelf turns into a tantrum of otherworldly proportions. You sneak a glance at the mother, who patiently waits for her child to calm before speaking. Why is she standing there letting her child throw a fit? It takes a few moments and a few deep breaths with the guidance of his parent, but the child is eventually able to calm. His mother crouches down to his level, tips up his chin to look him in the eyes, and says, “Honey, can you tell me what is upsetting you? Mommy wants to help but needs you to use your words.” Sniffling, he points to the corner of a box of fruit flavored cereal and tells her the box had scratched him.
Many may witness a scene like this and make a number of assumptions. Is the child too sensitive, spoiled, and does he have every need fulfilled by his parent? Or is there perhaps another explanation…
WHAT IS SENSORY PROCESSING DIFFICULTY?
For decades, therapists have argued that there is more to these overreactions and emotional moments than merely the age and social development of the individual. Children are frequently exposed to new sights, sounds, smells, and textures; most are able to process these fairly well. There are those, however, who struggle with taking in too much new information at one time. Most associated with childhood disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), and a myriad of developmental disorders, sensory processing difficulty is often erroneously referred to as a separate diagnosis. Instead, it is a symptom of a number of challenges that may present in childhood but are not limited to the developmental years.
Sensory processing difficulty is defined as the brain’s inability to appropriately process the information to which it is being exposed. The brain may give significant meaning to a variety of sensations, even those that would typically be overlooked. Reversely, the brain may not associate enough significance to an exposure resulting in hyposensitivity.
One of the greatest challenges of sensory processing difficulty is how it should be classified. Though there has been a movement to include it as a disorder in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual for mental health disorders, there has been some hesitation from professionals due to the vagueness of the symptomology. Its characteristics are not specific enough, and there is some fear that it would become a “go-to” diagnosis for many cases.
SENSORY PROCESSING THERAPY
To combat these difficulties, several studies suggest the use of sensory integration therapy techniques can assist those with hyper or hyposensitivity to regain a normal level of functioning. Dr. Lorna Jean King, a researcher and influential professional in the world of sensory therapy, described sensory integration as, “a process in the normal brain which pulls together all of the various sensory messages in order to form coherent information on which we can act.” For some individuals, this process is severely impaired or diminished, so the goal of sensory integration therapy, then, is to improve the central nervous system’s ability to process sensory input in a more normal way.
The most common treatment type is the inclusion of occupational therapy. Occupational therapists use a number of methods to alter a person’s sensitivity to stimuli. These methods include holds to alter a persons' touch or in the world of sensory if a singular diagnosis:
“Brushing” – the combination of applying deep pressure to the skin with a soft-bristled brush followed by joint compressions such as weighted blanket sensory therapy
- Sensory gyms – activities that promote positive associations with physical contact
- Sensory diets – monitored inclusion of uncomfortable, but safe, experiences to promote normal associations with various stimuli.
WEIGHTED BLANKET SENSORY THERAPY
Sleep is an area of typical functioning that can be greatly impacted by sensory processing dysfunctions. For both children and adults, falling and staying asleep may be difficult because the sheets are too rough, the room is too dark, or the noises in the home are too loud. This sleep disruption can cause problem areas to seem amplified and decrease the likelihood for restful sleep. This cycle progressively worsens, creating any number of new problems. So what can be done to improve sleep and decrease symptoms by ending the cycle of disturbances?
Akin to the concept of brushing, the use of weighted blankets as a form of deep pressure therapy is a treatment option for improving sleep that is rapidly gaining popularity. The use of weight as a therapeutic technique is associated with relatively low risk and is accessible at a low cost in comparison to other treatment options. Use of weighted blankets during sleep can promote a sense of safety and security, much like being held or hugged. Deep, or pressured, touch calms, relaxes, and encourages the body’s production of serotonin which is later converted by the body into melatonin prompting tiredness and sleep in a natural pattern. In fewer words, this deep pressure promotes the brain and body to work together to promote a healthy sleep cycle. For those with sensory processing difficulties, the heaviness of a weighted blanket can reduce the intensity of other sensations and promote physical and mental calmness.
As with any treatment option, though, it may not suit the needs of every individual. The weight and fabric composition of the blanket, much like a dosage, must be individualized. And not always will a weighted blanket be the answer to sleep disturbances. With the low cost and consistent availability, however, it is a viable option.
HOW WEIGHTED BLANKETS ARE USED IN SENSORY THERAPY
The use of weighted blankets to promote calmness and restful sleep has been thoroughly researched and established as a legitimate option for individuals who regularly experience an oversensitivity to certain sensations. It is wise, though, to review literature to ensure it is appropriate for the individual; small children and individuals with certain medial conditions are cautioned against using an unmanageable amount of weight as a therapeutic treatment.
As long as precautions are taken and the “dosage” is right, those suffering from the effects of sensory processing difficulty may find themselves wrapped in the calm and comfort of a restful night of sleep.
WHERE TO BUY WEIGHTED BLANKETS FOR SENSORY THERAPY
Weighted blankets for use in sensory therapy are currently for sale at Yorkville Blankets. Yorkville blankets are a premium quality blanket brand that are affordable enough to try out if you are buying your first weighted blanket but are high quality if you are looking to upgrade. Yorkville Weighted Blankets provide sensory input without too much heat so you can get a good night sleep without tossing and turning or overheating.