Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Interview with Kristi Langslet, OTR/L Occupational Therapist/Designer

Weighted blankets are rapidly growing in popularity as more and more people realize how effective they are in helping almost anyone calm down and fall asleep.  

We invite you to join our interview with Kristi Langslet, OTR/L Occupational Therapist who has over 25 years of experience and specialized training in Sensory Integration.

SensoryEdge: What are weighted blankets?

Kristi: Weighted blankets are blankets that usually have pockets of weighting material sewn between two outer layers of material.  The blankets become heavy with the weighting materials and are used to help children and adults calm down and go to sleep.

SensoryEdge: Why have they become the necessary item for anyone who needs help calming down and help going to go to sleep?

Kristi: Occupational Therapists and Psychologists have understood from research as early as the 1950’s that the use of certain types of touch is necessary for normal development to happen and helpful to calm and soothe people.  As research continued in both fields it became clear using deep (gentle but firm) touch had a profound effect on the amount of calm and focus a person was able to experience.  Being and remaining calm is essential for higher thinking to happen.  The best thinking, learning and sleep happen only in a CALM state.  Calm is essential!

SensoryEdge: When should you use a weighted blanket?

Kristi: Weighted blankets can be used when children or adults have difficulty calming down for tasks, calming down for sleep or staying asleep.  Weighted blankets are also used to help soothe and calm for transitions, disruptions, or any time a person has a heightened level of stress.

SensoryEdge: Who should use a weighted blanket?

Kristi: Children and adults who have trouble calming down, falling asleep or staying asleep.  Weighted blankets are especially effective for people with diagnoses or disorders such as Autism (ASD), Asperger’s Syndrome, Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), Anxiety, Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSP), Restless Leg Syndrome and Depression.  Infants and children under approximately 22pounds should not use weighted blankets.  Wait until the child is older to try a weighted blanket.

SensoryEdge: How heavy should a weighted blanket be?

Kristi: There is widespread misunderstanding about how heavy weighted blankets should be to be effective.  The most recent research done by Tina Champagne, M.Ed, OTR/L found that blankets for adults should be 25-30 pounds.   

Ms. Champagne agrees that the most common recommendations of 10-% plus 1-2 pounds of body weight is too light to be effective.  Make sure when buying your weighted blanket that it is from a company that bases its blanket weights on current research and has direct experience with using weighted blankets. 

I am the designer at  Sommerfly™ and have worked as an Occupational Therapist for over 25 years.  Our blanket weights are based on the most current research and my years of experience and specialized training in Sensory Integration.

SensoryEdge: Where should weighted blankets be used?

Kristi: Weighted blankets are most often used in the home, at schools, at the dentist, during car and air travel, at the hair dressers and in office settings. The home is a natural place for weighted blankets to be used as that is usually where sleep happens.  Schools often use weighted blankets in the classrooms and in ‘Sensory Rooms’ to help students get calm or stay calm.    

Health care providers such as Occupational Therapist, Speech Therapists, Psychologist, Psychiatrists, Dentists and Physicians use weighted blankets to help their clients get calm or remain calm to get their important work done. Even getting haircuts can be very stressful for some children.  Using a weighted blanket can help them remain calm during this time.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Bead Mazes are more than just Toys

Rollercoaster bead toys are a favorite of pediatricians and teachers. Many say they are the most fun and educational toy in today’s market. 
Designed for children from 18 months to 5 years, rollercoaster toys are a three-dimensional manipulative experience in the perceptual, motor and language areas. Developmental and learning skills are “challenged” through fun play!

Suggested Activities

Eye Hand Coordination… Encourage the child to move the rollercoaster beads from one end to another following the paths of the wires. Start with the least complex wire (blue). The red, blue, orange and green are progressively more complex in their bends and turns as they develop and challenge the eye-hand coordination. 

Visual Tracking… Have the child follow the movement of the beads with the eyes. Vary the type of movements such as fast, slow, up, down and around.

Imaginative Play… The rollercoaster invites imaginative play. In a child’s mind the beads transform into cars, trains, airplanes and rocket ships. Pretend play is vital to the development of imaginative skills.

Language Development… Ask the child to relate a story in words and sounds as he/she plays with the rollercoaster. Help to expand vocabulary.

Color and Shape Recognition… Ask the child to identify the primary colors. Direct him/her to point to the red, blue, green, etc.  Ask what color beads are on each different wire. Increase the difficulty by asking to identify different shapes in combination with the various colors

Grouping… Instruct the child to make a pattern that has two (2) groups of three (3) beads, one (1) group of five (5) beads, two (2) groups of four (4) beads, etc. Children always find this fun. 

Problem Solving… Ask the child to put three (3) beads on the longest wire, two (2) beads on the shortest wire, etc. There are numerous possibilities relating to colors, grouping, shape, length and direction which will allow for development of problem solving. Give clues to help “unravel” the problem.

Directional Change and Spatial Relations… Demonstrate concepts such as over, under, left, right, up and down. The rollercoaster enables difficult concepts to unfold right before a child’s eyes.

Understanding Numbers/Math… Playing with the rollercoaster with numbers and counting. Exercise: Stack a number of beads on a wire. Have child count beads. Next add or subtract beads one at a time. After each movement ask the child how many are now on the stack or how many are left. Vary the number of beads added or subtracted. Allow the child to feel the beads as they are added to or taken away from the stack. Demonstrate the basics, e.g., 1+1=2; 2-1=1. Remember the rollercoaster is like an abacus!

Memory Activities…  Set up a pattern of beads and ask the child to study the pattern. Remove the pattern and ask the child to repeat or replace the pattern. This improves visual memory and makes for a delightful game. Other memory activities involve the child closing the eyes after studying the patterns and then opening his eyes after the teacher/parent changes the pattern and thereafter having the child point out the changes.

Pre-writing Skills… The configuration of the wires designed so that the movement of the beads along the paths aids in the development of finger and wrist dexterity. Such flowing and curving motions are prerequisite to developing basic writing skills.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

The Positive Snowball Effect – Bullying, Bystanders, and You

The Positive Snowball Effect – Bullying, Bystanders, and You

How much does peer behavior influence our kids and the way they treat other people? I would like to think my children treat everyone with kindness and are not influenced negatively by their peers but is this truth or just wishful thinking?

Today I was reading an abstract of an article from the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. The article was titled “Peer Bystanders to Bullying: Who Wants to Play with the Victim?” (Howard AM, 2013 Jun 26). The article outlines a study that was done to see the effect of peer responses to bullying. Basically they put some boys ages 10-15 years old in a waiting room with some actors of the same age. The actors were to play the parts of bully, victim, and bystander. Later all the boys were sent to play a game together. The child actors exhibited escalating bullying episodes and in different scenarios the bystander’s behavior varied from aide to the bully, defender of the victim, or passive outsider. The study included about 200 boys and I think the results are a very clear indication of why it is important to talk to children about how to react to bullying.

According to the results of the study is seems that when the bystander was passive the other boys had a tendency to disengage from the bullying and it “decreased their willingness to include the victim in the game.” To me this shows that when children observe bullying it is crucial that they defend the victim, not just refrain from bullying themselves. I think of it as a positive snowball effect. By standing up for the victim others will notice and go out of their way to include the victim in other activities as well.

Doing this is not always easy. Most children, and adults for that matter, are often afraid to get involved. They don’t know what to say or they might be afraid that the bully will turn on them. They might even be embarrassed to be associated with the victim. This is why talking about what to do with our kids is so important. I often discuss how to handle this with my children. I tell them the importance of standing up for other kids if they see them getting picked on. I also encourage them to talk to new students – no one likes being the new kid. I remind them it does not mean you will be their best friend or even that you will remain friends but it does help the new student transition until they are comfortable.

What do you do to teach your children or students about bullying? We cannot expect our children to know how to handle such a hard situation without training. We teach them to look both ways before they cross the street and how to say please and thank you. Just telling a child to be kind is not enough. Experts suggest that we role play with our kids, ask them open ended questions on how they would handle a situation, ask them how it would make them feel if they were the victim.

Be specific. For example, “If you were in a group of people and someone made fun of you how would you feel?” or “Pretend you’re sitting down alone and a group of kids started asking you questions that made you uncomfortable what would you do? How would you feel if they made fun of you? How would you feel if others were watching and did not say anything?” Then make suggestions on how they should respond and finally act it out with a few kids. This not only helps the children who are being bullied but the bystanders as well. It is very empowering for children to have a plan of action and to know they are doing the right thing.

Here is a link to the abstract of the original article. I hope this inspires you to talk to your child or your students about what they can do to help make bullies back down.

Here are some other resources to help you implement an anti-bullying campaign in your area.

by Alycia Shapiro - Co-Founder & President of SensoryEdge

Questions? You can email Alycia at