Schreiber Pediatric Center - Schreiber contributes to crafting book about making weighted blankets

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December 15, 2016

Schreiber contributes to crafting book about making weighted blankets

Posted by Dan  Permalink 

Schreiber Pediatric recently worked with Susan White Sullivan, a nationally recognized authority in the craft publishing industry, on a crafting book about making weighted blankets and scarves.

Our own Bernie Hershey wrote the introduction to the book, "Weighted Blankets, Vests & Scarves: Simple Sewing Projects to Comfort and Calm Children, Teens & Adults."

The book was published this month by Spring House Press, a Nashville-based publisher run by partners Paul McGahren and Mattew Teague. McGahren lives in Lancaster and is familiar with Schreiber's mission. It's available on Amazon and Spring House is working to distribute the book nationally in craft stores and elsewhere.

Here is the full text of Bernie's introduction.

A weighted blanket is exactly what it sounds like -- a blanket made heavy by the addition of polypropylene pellets sewn into the blanket itself. More and more, weighted blankets are being used as an effective treatment strategy for children showing the symptoms of sensory processing challenges, including autism spectrum disorders, attention deficit disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders, anxiety and stress.

If you're not familiar with the sensation of using a weighted blanket, it's comparable to the lead x-ray vest draped on your chest at the dentist's office. In adding physical pressure by applying weight to the body, a weighted blanket or other weighted garments like a scarf or can help soothe, calm, and regulate
children and adults with sensory processing challenges. A weighted blanket is like a warm hug that molds to the body to relax the nervous system.

In the complex nervous system of the human body, the brain receives information through many senses: sight, smell, taste, hearing, movement, balance, and, most relevant to this book, touch. When it comes to touch, we humans are live wires. It has been estimated in the medical community that in one square inch of skin there are: 78 yards of nerves; 19,500 sensory cells at the end of nerve fibers; 160 pressure receptors; 1,300 pain nerve endings; 78 heat sensors; and 13 cold sensors. (Not to mention sweat glands, hair follicles, and blood vessels.)

If you extrapolate that one square inch of sensitivity to your entire body, it's easy to understand why not all types of touch are alike and why not everyone responds to touch in the same manner.

When a particular touch nerve ending is stimulated, the nerve transmits the information up the spinal column to the brain, which then interprets that information. Some touch is interpreted as dangerous, and some is interpreted as nonthreatening. In the former instance, the brain sends the direction down the spinal cord to the muscles to move away from the object touching the nerve. An example would be a mosquito landing on your arm. That type of sudden and surprising light touch can be interpreted as a danger to the body. In the latter instance, a deeper, heavier, and controlled pressure touch is interpreted by most people's brain as calming and nonthreatening. This type of deep pressure touch can be provided by a soothing message, a warm hug, the petting of a dog, or a weighted blanket or garment. As a result, the brain sends a signal to the muscles to move toward the object providing the pressure touch.

This deep pressure touch triggers the release of the famous "feel good" neurochemical serotonin. Serotonin regulates our mood, suppresses pain, calms the body and mind, and reduces anxiety. It ultimately converts to the chemical melatonin, which relaxes the brain and is considered helpful in initiating sleep. And, while the deep pressure touch of weighted blankets, vests and scarves may not be a remedy for everyone, there are many who have seen positive results immediately in their ability to sleep, sit still, focus, and relax.

Researchers have found that weighted blankets improve sleep in children with attention deficit disorders, autism and bipolar disorder. A study by N.L. Vandenberg published in The American Journal of Occupational Therapy found that wearing weighted garments such as scarves, lap pads, and vests can increase "on task behavior" in children with attention deficit difficulties by 18 to 25 percent. In 2012, a study published in Australasian Psychiatry confirmed "that weighted blankets successfully decreased distress and visible signs of anxiety."

"Being covered with a weighted blanket is just enough deep pressure to help a child feel grounded when out of balance or overstimulated, which in turn leads to success with everyday activities that a child may experience," said Angie Rice, Schreiber's director of rehabilitation services.

The benefits of weighted blankets are not reserved for children. A 2008 Mullen study published in Occupational Therapy in Mental Health found that adults who used weighted blankets reported decreased distress and anxiety and improved relaxation.

Research also indicates that the benefits of weighted blankets is extremely varied. In writing "The Weighted Blanket Guide," an excellent primer on the use of weighted blankets, authors Eileen Parker and Cara Koscinski conducted a survey of more than 300 occupational therapists and found that patients using weighted blankets showed improvement not only with autism, attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and sensory processing disorder, but with many other conditions, including:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Chronic pain
  • Insomnia
  • Dementia
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Mental illness
  • Substance/alcohol detoxing
  • Restless legs syndrome (RLS)
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI)

Ultimately, weighted garments such as blankets, scarves and vests are a nonchemical method to help people of all ages. Because they work at a basic neurological level, these garments do not require any particular level of cognition. They have been safely used over many years with a range of patients from geriatric adults with dementia to small infants.

Because of the many benefits of weighted garments, this new book is timely and necessary. Susan White Sullivan has provided everything you need for making your own weighted blanket, vest, or scarf. Before doing so, however, please work with the guidance of an occupational therapist and use the chart provided so the proper safe levels of weight are used. The clear instructions, crisp illustrations and helpful photographs will enable patients or their family and friends to craft the weighted garments needed to provide the appropriate sensory input that their bodies need to function best. All of the occupational therapists at Schreiber Pediatric are thrilled to see this book in print and recommend adding a weighted blanket, vest, or scarf to a child's or adult's sensory diet daily!

Bernie Hershey is an occupational therapist at Schreiber Pediatric Rehab Center in Lancaster, Pa.

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