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Weighted Blanket Safety Rules (Episode 16)

Weighted blankets, vests and stuffed animals have become incredibly popular in recent years. They can be incredible helpful for anyone who struggles with sensory regulation. You can buy weighted sensory products online and in many stores, but they should still be used with caution.

In 2008, a child with autism died while rolled in weighted blanket and left unsupervised. Since then, the provincial government of Québec has published a set guidelines and regulations regarding the use of weighted blankets at home and in school or healthcare settings.

In this episode, Cynthia Miller-Lautman (Occupational Therapist) goes through these guidelines and talks about how to use weighted products safely. You can also download the poster below to share with you colleagues and family, or print it and post it where it will be most helpful.

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This podcast is produced with the support of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay and Jordan’s Principle.

 “NISHIIYUU AND ME” by artists from Whapmagoostui and the N’We Jinan project. Permission to use the music was generously provided by David Hodges/N’We Jinan. You can listen to the track on SoudCloud here or buy/stream it on Apple Music .

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The information provided on this website is for information only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, assessment and evaluation. We encourage our readers to seek and consult qualified health care professionals for answers to personal medical questions. Read the full disclaimer.

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TRANSCRIPT: Weighted Blanket Safety Rules (Episode 16)

Hi, everyone. I’m Cynthia Miller-Lautman and I am an occupational therapist and clinical advisor with the Disability Programs Specialized Services Team at the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay. Today I’m going to be talking to you about weighted blankets; when to use them and how to use them safely.

At DPSS we talk a lot about sensory integration and some of the tools that can help your clients or loved ones with self-regulation or getting to just right. Once people learn about sensory integration and how well it can work, they get very excited and want to jump in right away and start using some of the tools that are available. One of those tools is weighted blankets.

Weighted blankets are becoming increasingly popular as a means of improving sleep, reducing anxiety and promoting a sense of calm. These blankets are designed to be heavier than traditional blankets. They have small little weights sewn into them, typically in the form of plastic pellets. While weighted blankets can be beneficial for many people, it’s still really important to know the safety rules. There are some precautions that need to be taken and rules that need to be followed. If you are using weighted blankets, especially if you are a therapist using them in a group home or a healthcare environment. This is especially important if you are a healthcare professional and you are going to be recommending a weighted blanket to a client’s parents. It’s also very important, though, for parents to know because weighted blankets are being sold in many stores and online and the rules are not posted. At first glance, a safety blanket seems harmless enough and easy to use. It’s just a heavy blanket, you might think. But the truth is they can be very dangerous if not used right.

In 2008, an autistic child died while using a weighted blanket at a school here in Québec. He was rolled in it and was left in it alone. After that, the provincial government came up with a set of guidelines that must be followed if a weighted blanket or vest is going to be used in a therapeutic setting or recommended by a healthcare worker.

There are all kinds of weighted products available on the market. They’re not just blankets. You can find them in stores and online, but blankets and vests are the obvious ones. But they also sell weighted belts, bracelets, weighted stuffed animals. You might have seen the weighted lizards and snakes that can be worn over the shoulders or on your lap.

These products are not all considered medical devices. This means that a lot of the manufacturing and sale of these weighted products is not regulated in any way. The rules set out were made for weighted blankets, however, but you should use the same precautions with using any weighted product. So when I say ”weighted blanket” in this video, I really mean any weighted product that you could use to help someone calm down or stay focused.

I will also be referring to the use of weighted blankets with children for the most part. This is because children are smaller and therefore some other risks associated with weighted blankets are greater for them. That being said, the rules should be followed for adults too. Anyone can go online and buy a weighted blanket, but it’s really important that anyone planning to buy one use them for themselves with a child at home, follow the safety rules that I’m going to explain. However, if you are in a healthcare setting, in a group home, or at school, the use of a weighted blanket can only be recommended by specific healthcare professionals; doctors, nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, psychologists, psycho-educators and social workers. So if a teacher thinks that a child or student may benefit from a weighted blanket in class, they would have to get a recommendation from one of the professionals I just mentioned.

If you are already using a weighted blanket or product, please listen closely to the following safety precautions. I want to be very clear about one more thing before I go into details about using a weighted blanket.

Weighted blankets and vests should never be used to restrain a child. Mean hold them down, keep them in place so that they can’t get out.

Weighted blankets should only be used with children over the age of two years. Young babies don’t often have enough body strength to wiggle out from under it, and it can become dangerous.

Even for home use, you should check with your child’s doctor to see if there are any health issues that make using a weighted blanket dangerous. The weight of a blanket is very important.

It should always be in proportion to the weight of the child, never more than 10% of their bodyweight. So, for example, if you had a little child that was weighing 50 pounds, their blanket should be no more than 5 pounds.

The child’s head should never be covered, nor should their mouth or nose when they were using a weighted blanket. You need to be able to see their vital signs, their eyes, their breathing and their movement.

You should never roll a child on a weighted blanket or tuck it under the mattress. The only way you could do this is if there was an occupational therapist or physiotherapist right there with them doing that as part of a specific therapy program. But this should never be used at home.

So what do you do? Just lay that blanket over the child, making sure their head is free. They should be able to get themselves out from under the blanket if they want to. They should never be stuck in their own rural type me so they can’t get out. As I said before, a weighted blanket cannot be used as a restraining device for a child. Before you do use the weighted blanket, do a little test, make sure the child knows how to get out from under it. If a child is unable to get out by themselves from under that weighted blanket, you should not use it or go on a much lighter version of it. Never leave the child unattended while using that weighted blanket. I know it’s tempting if you’re a parent, but it can be quite dangerous. There should always be someone in the room with them.

So a great idea as a parent could be when a child is watching TV or doing some homework, they can be under part of their body, under the weighted blanket. It’s also really important to get consent from the child if you are using a weighted blanket at that moment. You’ve got to check in the moment if the child is able and wanting to do it. So even if they can’t speak, they should always be able to give you a sign that they are okay. So if you do put a weighted blanket on a child and they tell you or show you that they don’t want to use it, don’t. Always look for the consent. So what would that be? Are they, is the child reaching for it or are they asking for it? Are they smiling and pointing to it? But if they give you the other kind of signs that show you they don’t want to look, use it. It might look like moving away or turning their body away or pushing it away from you. There may be fear in their eyes. You put it over their body and their eyes may get really scared or they might start to cry.

Don’t continue using it. Always let them out. A weighted blanket again, should never be forced on the child and never use it as a punishment. It should be something fun and exciting and feel good for them. There are some health conditions that make using a weighted blanket particularly dangerous for a child. If someone has respiratory problems like asthma or circulatory or cardiac heart problems, low muscle tone epilepsy or severe skin problems, they should not necessarily be using a weighted blanket in these cases.

It’s really important to get the recommendation from an occupational therapist or doctor or another one of the health care professionals I mentioned before. This makes sure that the health issues have been taken into account when you’re using that kind of covers parents using weighted blankets at home, but what about in a therapeutic or professional setting? This could be at school, in a healthcare [setting] as part of an O.T. program.

In these cases, the goals for using a weighted blanket must be clear. The goal should be part of an individual therapy or intervention plan that was prepared for that child specific. Remember, this recommendation can only be made by the professionals I talked about before. So whichever professional does make the recommendation to use a weighted blanket, they have an obligation to be checking in regularly with that client to see if that weighted blanket is helping them at school or at home.

The kind of goals that can be set out could look like the child will be calmer in a classroom setting after using a weighted blanket for 20 minutes. Or it could be something like the child is able to participate in group activities while using a weighted blanket.

If the blanket isn’t having the desired effect, if it isn’t helping with the goals that you’ve set out as a professional, then it shouldn’t be used. It’s really important to keep in mind that while a lot of people like using weighted blankets, the actual scientific evidence for their effectiveness is limited. The past few years have seen a lot of research into the use of weighted blankets, and much of it is actually quite promising.

However, parents, teachers, and other caregivers should be informed that there are no guarantees about using a weighted blanket. It might help, but it also might not. So health care professionals: It’s okay if you have been using a weighted blanket already. You’re not going to get in trouble. Just make sure that from now on you begin to follow these weighted blanket safety guidelines.

And if you are a parent and you’ve already bought one and have used a weighted blanket, it’s okay too. As a parent, you can use the weighted blanket without a professional’s recommendation. Just make sure you follow the safety guidelines outlined. Remember, never more than 10% of your child’s body weight. Never roll them, and make sure it’s only used once your child is over two years of age.

So to wrap it up, a weighted blanket can be a great tool. Many children love using them. Many adults love using a weighted blanket. But just remember that when you are using a weighted blanket with a child, they should always be supervised and you got to be able to see their face and their eyes.

Never use a weighted blanket as a restraint or punishment and always make sure that that child gives you the consent before using that blanket. The blanket should again be no more than 10%, and I cannot reiterate that enough. So again, if you have a 100 pound child, no more than a 10 pound weighted blanket. If you are a therapist or healthcare professional who is recommending a weighted blanket, make sure to check in regularly with your client.

You got to make sure it’s helping and not causing things to do worse. So you can find the Québec government’s recommendations as well as all the other references on our website. Just search for weighted blankets. Good luck and have fun using them.

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