Special Needs Now

Beyond Weighted Vests: Moms Create Therapy Blankets & Capes!

Two moms of special needs kids created better options for weighted therapy items with their blankets, capes, scarves and more.

Liam wearing a weighted cape Courtesy of Jamie Pacton
I first heard about weighted products when my oldest son got an autism diagnosis five years ago. Although many other parents swore a certain vest did wonders for calming their children with special needs, the vest I bought for my son didn't work very well. Although my son loves deep pressure, his vest didn't give him enough immediate pressure and it was so tight (almost like a bullet-proof vest) that it bothered his sensitive sensory system.

Because of this first bad experience, I've always been reluctant to try other weighted items, but all that changed when I was contacted in the same week both by my friend Kelly Lynch, the mom who founded Cailinn's Creations and who makes weighted blankets, and by Marna Pacheco and Susan Hickok, the moms who founded CapeAble, a company that makes weighted blankets, capes, scarves, sashes, and many other wonderful products.

What are these moms saying about their weighted items?

Kelly was excited to share how weighted blankets helped both her and her daughter, Cailinn, who has a rare genetic condition:

"Cailinn started using a weighted blanket to help with sleeping at night. She was waking up 4-8 times a night and was not able to get herself back to sleep. Since we started using a weighted blanket at night, she gets up maybe 1 or 2 times a night, primarily for diaper changes due to her high fluid intake. I've also used them too. I was very stressed when I started this business last year. I was constantly thinking about what I needed to do and if I remembered to email someone back. I was laying in bed one night feeling very tired and stressed and realized that I make blankets that help with this! I went to my office and grabbed a blanket. I do not recall falling asleep, but woke the next morning in the same position I was in the night before. It was the best night of sleep I ever had! I sleep with my weighted blanket every night now. I even travel with it. Sleeping in hotels is always tough for me and this has made a world of difference."

Marna at CapeAble said this:

"When I was told about weighted products for my daughter, Millie, 6 ½ years ago, I was appalled with the lack of weighted product choices and how ugly the 'blue vest' was. Necessity is the mother of invention! Our CapeAble products are unlike anything else on the market. We often get feedback from those within the autism community about the 'blue vest that didn't work for my child' or 'weight doesn't work for my child, we tried it.' What we have found is that the products they had tried did not have the correct weight distribution and they may have been using too much weight. More is not always better when it comes to weight; it is about just enough weight to get the nerve to communicate with the brain."

What do professionals think?

Pam Fenlon, an occupational therapist who works at HealthReach rehab in Wisconsin (and who works with Kelly Lynch's daughter), says: "Weighted blankets are an intervention occupational therapists recommend for children who require deep pressure input to assist with calming, sleeping, attention span, body awareness and relaxation. The weighted blanket provides input through deep pressure into the muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments of the body to integrate the tactile and proprioceptive systems of the central nervous system. Children who are high energy, have autism disorder, sensory processing disorders and other diagnoses frequently respond to the input these blankets provide with improved sensory, calming and body awareness. The weighted blanket can be an alternative to medications and is easily accessible when needed."

The really important question: What did my kids think?

My kids love their new weighted blankets and capes! In fact, they like them so much, I wish I'd bought a weighted blanket for my son years ago, and I'm totally impressed by how they've helped calm my kids. We got a medium-sized blanket (the black one below) and small cape from CapeAble (the red one my autistic son is wearing in the picture above) and a large blue one from Cailinn's Creations. All the blankets are made of soft fabric and were created with my kids' weights in mind. So far, my boys love snuggling under both these blankets, and my autistic son is thrilled to wear the cape during the day.

Weighted blankets and capes for therapy items for special needs kids Jamie Pacton

Although the weighted products can be expensive (a large blanket goes for around $175 at both companies), as with other therapeutic materials, I've found the benefit is worth the investment. So, would I recommend weighted items? Absolutely. But, remember, one size doesn't fit all, so work to find one that's right for your child. We'd love to hear how weighted products have or have not worked for your kids, so please tell us what you think in the comments below.

Jamie Pacton lives in the Pacific Northwest where she drinks loads of coffee, dreams of sailing, and enjoys each day with her husband and two sons. Find her at www.jamiepacton.com, Facebook, andTwitter @jamiepacton.