Remember as a child climbing under a heavy blanket or several blankets and that wonderful feeling of security and comfort? In the neurological and sensory processing world, weight is a friend. And weight is a BEST FRIEND to a sensory seeking or over responsive individual. Added weight or pressure works like a massage or a wake-up call to the nervous system. It can benefit those who are anxious, nervous, agitated, stressed, lacking attention, under responsive or hyperactive. Added weight not only stimulates our touch receptors which can release endorphins and bring calm to chaos, but weight also stimulates our joint receptors (Golgi tendon organs) providing a senses of muscle, joint and overall body awareness called proprioception. Weight and compression is the overall positive impact, but how we bring the weight to our bodies, well… now that takes a bit creativity! Here are some of the options for using weighted items:
One of the most useful and practical ways to apply weight is through clothing such as a hoodie, hat, or even a headband. These practical methods allow your student to wear the weight throughout the day or as needed leaving their hands free. Some individuals may prefer to wear the weight or compression throughout the day whereas others may prefer to wear it only at intervals or right before a time of concentration is needed. It is really a personal choice as to how long and how often a garment is used.
Ahhhh…. who doesn’t love a weighted blanket. Not only are these amazing for students, but even older students will love the soothing effects of a weighted blanket. You can use these in a sensory room, reading corner, or as part of your bedding. Keep one around on a couch for family time as well. A weighted blanket can provide a full body experience at the end of stressful day or when you just need an overdue break. Some students feel anxious not only during testing but when transitioning to a new area of the school or changing classes. You can try using a blanket just a few minutes before a transition.
A weighted lap pad is portable and practical. They can be used during circle time, test taking, and homework time or even during a meal to help regulate and calm. Lap pads are also ideal for using on a long car or airplane trip or while waiting for an appointment. With a weighted lap pad you get weight just where you want it (either the lap, across the shoulders or back) and when used on the lap it can also provide a place for tactile exploration.
Portable weights such as snakes, wrist weights or a binder insert are wonderful for adding weight at any moment. Your students may benefit from added weight before handwriting or may like the ease of having a weighted snake close by to lay across their lap or wrap across their shoulders. In addition, dropping that binder weight in a backpack may help provide much needed calm while moving throughout the school during transitions.
Some students may like pressure or resistance and prefer it to using weight. And in general, these compression tools are lighter and portable providing pressure and stretch to the muscle belly and joints. In such cases having a tool such as a compression vest, resistance tunnel, snuggle wrap or a cocoon swing can give the comfort and heavy work needed to reorganize the brain-muscle connection. The pull and stretch on the muscles can not only give a wakeup call but also improve spatial awareness making moving more purposeful and organized.
Whether your student can benefit from weight or compression is highly a personal choice, but having options for multiple students can allow teachers and parents to have sensory solutions readily available whenever the need arises. Be sure to consult with your child’s OT or PT to determine best practices as well as proper calibration and use.