What You Need to Know About Weighted Blankets and Sensory Processing Disorder

April 05, 2015 3 min read

If you’re reading this blog, it’s likely that you or a loved one has been diagnosed with sensory processing disorder. This can be unsettling to hear, but it becomes more manageable with information on the diagnosis and the more you investigate options regarding available therapies. There are tools out there that do not involve taking medication. Here’s what you ought to know:

What Is Sensory Processing Disorder, or SPD?
Sensory processing disorder refers to a problem in how sensory integration works in the body. Sensory integration is the process by which the body (more specifically, the nervous system) receives information from the various senses and then translates that information into motor functions or behavioral responses. SPD presents itself in young children; many parents find out there is an issue during a pediatric wellness check or by observing the child’s school activities. If you or your child has SPD, you are not alone: SPD affects between 5% and 16% of school-aged children, but can continue on into adulthood as well. (With the recent rise in information and press about SPD, many adults are also self-diagnosing these days.) It is sometimes difficult to diagnose SPD because it is frequently intertwined with other conditions such as autism. More than 90% of children with autism also have atypical sensory processing.

What Are the Everyday Effects of SPD?
Some people with SPD have trouble processing only one sense -- sight, hearing, touch, etc. -- while others get a neurological “traffic jam” when trying to process input from more than one sense. Because sensory integration is necessary for a wide variety of everyday tasks (reading, riding a bike, giving a hug, kicking a ball, eating a snack, and countless others), it can have serious ongoing effects on both physical abilities and emotional behavior. Clumsiness, anxiety, depression, academic struggle, and “acting out” are all common in children with SPD, if the disorder is not effectively treated; often, these lead to further social isolation.

What Do Weighted Sensory Blankets Do?
The first-line approach for SPD is occupational therapy to encourage sensory integration, according to the SPD Foundation. Also, weighted sensory blankets (which typically range in price from $60 to $175) may be a good investment. What is a weighted blanket? It's a blanket that weighs 5% to 10% of the user’s body weight and is constructed with quilted squares to even out that weight (up to 20 pounds). A weighted blanket can be used for kids, toddlers and adults, and can be used to cover the entire body or just portions of it. This activates a sensory response that can have the same calming effect as a firm hug. Many parents claim that weighted blankets for kids are a first line of defense when children are having a meltdown or trying to go to sleep. The benefits of a weighted blanket apply not only to people with SPD, but also those suffering from autism, ADD/ADHD, PTSD, anxiety and insomnia.

What Is the Best Choice for a Weighed Blanket?
Weighted sensory blankets became mainstream on the web in about 2010; there are several online retailers that customize to height and weight. Blankets are available in many different colors and patterns (imagine Angry Birds or a hot-pink candy stripes) to engage the child -- or adult -- who is using the blanket. Comfortable minky fabrics and anti-microbial fabrics are also available with washable covers so the blankets stay clean.

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