FAB Strategies John Pagano, Ph.D., OTR/L

Why OTs should Review Research

While I need to begin with full disclosure that “I am a research geek” I think it is important for OTs to review the current research, as illustrated by recent research regarding weighted blankets. The heading of the research study in the journal Pedatrics heading bullet states that the study adds that weighted blankets do not improve sleep in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. While I as an occupational therapist agree with this summary of the research, I disagree that is the one important new thing that this research shows.

I’m very concerned that this take home bullet ignores that the weighted blanket was well tolerated and the research found parents and children rated the children as behaving better when using the weighted blanket, which can be found briefly mentioned in the body of the article (Gringras et al., 2014) Article

Since pediatricians may prescribe anxiety medications to treat children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, I feel the fact that another take home message is that this research found weighted blankets safely reduce anxiety in children with Autism. This is especially true because there are legitimate concerns about the efficacy and long term side effects of pediatric medications.

I feel that since pediatricians have been critical about using “unproven weighted blankets as treatment when they could be harmful” the take home message in this article includes weighted blankets may be more helpful in safely improving behavior than the medication some doctors prescribe instead. The safety of weighted blankets and that they significantly reduced anxiety has also been confirmed in a study of adult mental health patients (Champagne et al., 2015).

I urge OTs to follow the research to the best of their ability. I and the authors of this article agree with the findings and methods of the current research article. At the same time we strongly disagree over the clinical relevance of the findings. I’m not saying pediatricians are always wrong and OTs are right, just that we deserve a seat at the research table. As the lobbyist of the Connecticut OT Association frequently tells me regarding OT participation on legislative committees “if you’re not at the table you’re probably on the menu”.
References

Champagne T, Mullen B, Dickson D, Krishnamurty S. Evaluating the safety and effectiveness of the weighted blanket with adults during an inpatient mental health hospitalization. Occupational Therapy in Mental Health. 2015 Jul 3;31(3):211-33.

Gringras P, Green D, Wright B, Rush C, Sparrowhawk M, Pratt K, Allgar V, Hooke N, Moore D, Zaiwalla Z, Wiggs L. Weighted blankets and sleep in autistic children” a randomized controlled trial. Pediatrics. 2014 Aug 1;134(2):298-306.