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Weighted blankets helping kids with sensory issues

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Big retailers are cashing in on the growing popularity of weighted blankets. But they are not new. They've been helping children with autism and sensory issues for decades.

4-year-old Simon Jacko loves his snacks, his mom and his weighted blanket.

“There’s definitely not something wrong with him, he is just wired a little bit differently,” says his mom Andrea, “we just have to figure out how to help him when he gets in these overwhelming situations.”

Andrea Jacko knew something was different about her son after he was born, but it wasn't until he was a toddler that he was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder.

“He was struggling a lot more than other kids his age,” says Andrea, “he was having a lot more meltdowns over things that normal toddlers wouldn’t have meltdowns about. He’s not crying because you took something away from him, he’s crying because the wind was too windy or the sun was too bright or somebody blew a whistle and the kids were too loud and he would just throw himself on the ground and become hysterical.”

Through therapy, Simon and his parents learned ways to cope and found tools to help, like his blanket.

Weighted blankets are not new. Therapists have been using them for years.

“It is kind of like just giving your body a big hug,” says Nicole Meert, a Pediatric Occupational Therapist with Saint Joseph Health Systems.

Meert uses weighted vests and lap blankets with some of her patients. It is like deep-pressure therapy and helps relieve anxiety and calm children with autism of sensory disorders.

“Its actually very comforting for them. Like getting a bear hug,” says Meert, “It is going to release dopamine and serotonin which can make you happy and feel safe and secure. It helps to slow the heart rate down so you can focus on what you are working on.”

For kids like Simon, they can make a huge difference.

“Every time he took a nap, every time he slept during the day, when he gets overwhelmed and just needs that deep pressure stimulation, we wrap them up in his blanket and it feels really nice,” says Andrea, “when we’re out and about and he gets overwhelmed he’ll ask for a hug and that’s kind of his way of asking for his blanket.”

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There are several types of weighted items: Weighted stuffed animals, vests and compression garments. They usually weight about 10 percent of the child's body weight or less. The children generally wear them for about 20 minutes at a time. Meert says while they work for some kids, they don’t for others. She recommends consulting with a doctor or therapist before trying them on your child.

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