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Weighted lap pads are increasingly being used in the home and school for children with sensory needs.
Often most helpful for fidgety children who struggle to sit still or focus, weighted lap pads are most commonly used by children with anxiety, autism (ASD), attention deficit disorders (ADHD) or a sensory processing disorder (SPD).
Essentially a small ‘blanket’ that sits across the lap, weighted lap pads contain ‘pockets’ of weighted material, such as poly pellets or glass beads, which give it additional weight. This extra weight has been shown to provide therapeutic, calming effects on the nervous system.
But how exactly does a weighted lap pad work, what are the benefits and will they work for everyone?
This guide will help you find out.
How Does A Weighted Lap Pad Work?
Many kids with autism, ADHD & sensory processing disorders struggle with a poor proprioception. Proprioception is our sense of the position & movement of our limbs & muscles in relation to our environment.
Poor proprioception often shows up in children as clumsiness, self stimulating behaviours such as rocking, hand flapping or fidgeting or an intense need for lots of physical play.
This often has an intensely calming & grounding effect on the person using it, which is why weighted lap pads often prove so useful for fidgety children who struggle to calm down or focus.
Weighted Lap Pad Benefits
Weighted lap pads are most commonly used in the home, or at school, to help children who find it a challenge to sit still and focus on quiet or desk based activities.
Specifically, weighted lap pads may help children to:
- self regulate and calm down
- focus better
- stay seated longer (for example, during meal times, car trips or quiet/desk based or seated activities)
- transition more smoothly between activities or tasks.
Who Might Benefit From A Weighted Lap Pad?
The gentle deep touch pressure therapy of weighted lap pads helps many children to calm down and self regulate their emotions more effectively.
Typically most helpful for fidgety children who struggle to sit still or focus, weighted lap pads are most commonly used by children (or adults) with:
- autism (ASD)
- attention deficit disorders (ADHD)
- a sensory processing disorder (SPD)
Whilst weighted lap pads are most commonly used with children, they may also aid restlessness and anxiety in adults or older people with conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.
Let’s briefly look at these in more detail.
Weighted Lap Pads For Autism, ADHD & SPDS
Research suggests children with autism (ASD), attention deficit (ADHD) and sensory processing disorders (SPDs) are often low in serotonin. The deep touch pressure of weighted items has been shown to help the brain release serotonin, which is linked with mood, sleep, focus and a sense of calm.
It’s also common for many children with autism, ADHD and SPDS to have a poor sense of body awareness (proprioception). The deep touch pressure of a weighted lap pad may help to stimulate the proprioceptive system, which for many children has a calming and grounding effect.
Weighted Lap Pads For Anxiety
The therapeutic deep touch pressure received via a weighted lap pad may help calm an anxious nervous system by stimulating the brain to release ‘feel good’ neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin.
These ‘hormones’ can help counter feelings of anxiety in the body by combating cortisol, the body’s ‘stress’ hormone, aiding relaxation and a sense of calm.
As well as children with anxiety, weighted lap pads may also help ease some of the restlessness and anxiety common in older people with conditions such as Alzheimers or dementia. Always consult a doctor first incase of any underlying health conditions.
How Much Should A Weighted Lap Pad Weigh?
Whilst no ‘official’ guideline exists on how much a weighted lap pad should weigh, the most common ‘rule of thumb’ used by therapists and manufacturers, is 2 lb or up to approximately 5% of a child’s body weight. You don’t need to be exact, as you’ll find most weighted lap pads for children come in 2, 3 or 5 lb weight sizes.
Some people get confused about the shape or dimensions of a weighted lap pad, but ‘technically’, the shape doesn’t really matter and the size if often down to the manufacturer. The ‘classic’ shape is a rectangle (like a small blanket), but lap pads may also come in a pillow shape, a bolster or even as a stuffed animal lap pad.
For the classic rectangle ‘blanket’ shape, things you may want to think about though are how much of the lap the lap pad covers and how evenly distributed the beads are. I like these Harkla lap pads as they contain extra stitched ‘pockets’ to help ensure it doesn’t slip off your child’s lap.
Are There Any Other Weighted Lap Pad Guidelines?
No ‘official’ set of weighted lap pad guidelines exist, but there are a few general things occupational therapists tend to recommend, such as:
- Use a weighted lap pads for short periods at appropriate times. For example, when a child is feeling anxious or struggling to calm down. (There are some suggestions on timing here from an OT)
- Weighted lap pads are not generally recommended for children under the age of 3.
- Ensure a person using a lap pad can move it off their body independently.
Weighted Lap Pads For Kids: Popular Options
Your child and their specific needs will determine which lap pad is likely to suit them best.
Here are 3 popular weighted lap pads for children, including Minky Dot lap pads for sensory kids and wipe clean lap pads for mealtimes and trips out.
For younger children, a cute weighted lap animal may also be helpful for sensory integration.
Etsy can also be a good place to find handmade weighted lap pads.
Weighted Lap Pads For Adults: Popular Options
Weighted lap pads aimed at children are generally more readily available than specific ‘adult’ versions. But depending on your weight and needs, you may find a 3 or 5lb weighted lap pad is sufficient.
Is There Any Weighted Lap Pad Research?
Whilst little research exists on weighted lap pads specifically, they work in the same way as any other sensory weighted item, such as a weighted blanket or vest – i.e. they provide therapeutic deep touch pressure, which research has shown to have a powerful, calming effect on the nervous system.
For more on deep touch pressure, check out this article from Applied Behavioral Analysis ED, which also explains the biological processes that take place when a weighted item is used.
For specific studies that support the benefits of weighted blankets, see here.
Or for studies that support the benefits of weighted vests, see here.
Do Weighted Lap Pads Work For Everyone?
Many kids & adults benefit hugely from weighted lap pads, as the deep touch pressure helps to calm the nervous system and the extra weight helps provide extra stimulation (or proprioceptive input) many children with autism, ADHD or sensory processing disorders crave.
For those who are extremely sensitive to sensory stimuli, however (i.e. they seek to avoid it), the weight of a lap pad may feel overstimulating. There’s never a blanket ‘rule’ though, so sometimes it’s simply a case of trying one to see.
For some extra tips, you may find these practical tips on whether a weighted lap pad may be right for your child helpful.
How To Make a Weighted Lap Pad
Think you might want to try your hand at making your own weighted lap pad?
Making your own DIY weighted lap pad isn’t that hard if you have the time and patience. You’ll find some ‘how to make weighted lap pad’ tutorials on Pinterest, as well as some video tutorials on Youtube.
Here are 3 to try:
- DIY Weighted Lap Pad (from GrowingHandsOnKids)
- DIY ‘Calming Weighted Lap Pad’ (from Fairfieldworld.com)
- DIY ‘no sew’ Weighted Lap Pillow With Sensory Sequins (from Fathering Autism)
Weighted Lap Pads – A Final Word
Weighted lap pads are an increasingly popular sensory tool used at home and in the classroom to help children regulate their emotions, calm down and focus better.
Portable and affordable, a weighted lap pad can prove ideal as part of a sensory diet for children (or adults) with anxiety, autism, attention deficit or sensory processing conditions.
Please note the information on this page is not medical advice & we recommend you consult with your doctor.