While I am excited to share with you how I made a DIY weighted lap pad using a Pillow Pet, this is also a very personal post for me. The tutorial is below, but I wanted to share some of our journey and why I am even making a weighted lap pad. Feel free to skip to the end, but my hope is that our story will provide some hope and encouragement to others going through similar stuff!
Sensory Integration Dysfunction
Some long time readers may remember posts over the past few years about my daughter’s toe walking, and I am excited to say that for the first time in her life, she is walking on her flat feet without the assistance of casts or braces! YAY! That doesn’t mean we are done in our journey. Isabella is now 7 years old, in first grade and has walked and stood on her toes since birth.
We have spent the past couple of years trying to lengthen Isabella’s leg tendons through serial casting, then retrain her brain to walk on her flat feet through PT and braces, and finally all the professionals were in agreement that something more was going on. I always knew Isabella had “red flags” for problems integrating sensory input, but wasn’t sure how much was dysfunction and how much was just her being a super intense kid. I’m a clinical social worker by profession and have lots of experience working with children with autism, but my experience with kids with sensory processing dysfunction looked so different than with Isabella because she doesn’t have autism.
It was a hard pill for me to swallow, this diagnosis of sorts. Not because it really changes things or changes who she is, but it means that I missed something. That I could have been parenting differently to help her be more successful, not just with the toe walking but also socially and emotionally. Even as I write this, a year later, I am still broken, crying over the words I type.
But in this discovery, there is also joy! God is still good. He knows her, and made her to be this way. So I have hope for the future and forgiveness for myself. He also also greatly provided for us. We live just outside of Baltimore and are blessed with some of the best medical professionals in the country. I am so thankful for our wonderful pediatric Occupational Therapist (OT) who worked with us on a sensory diet and strategies that have helped so much, with the toe walking and regulating her sensory input (and in turn her emotions)! Isabella also has a wonderful teacher this year who has been so understanding and kind in helping us bring some of these OT strategies into the classroom. At every turn, when I think I am going to have to fight or convince the school that we need help (or that I’m not crazy), they respond above and beyond what I could have expected, and with kindness. I know this is not normal, so I am beyond grateful.
That brings us to the present. Since the time change and Spring Break, Isabella has been completely disregulated, crying and melting down every day after school for no big reason and refusing to go to school in the morning. There’s no change or problem at school that she, or the school, can identify – she is above grade level in math and reading, school work is fairly easy, and she has lots of friends. As our OT reminded me, kids with Sensory Integration Dysfunction struggle at times of transition or change and may need more integration strategies during these times. Since our school does not have a swing (one of Isabella’s most effective strategies), the OT suggested a weighted lap pad. Her teacher and school OT agreed and set aside special times during the day for Isabella to sit in a quiet space with her weighted pad pad and do a preferred activity. It has made a big difference and suddenly Isabella is back to her sweet, thoughtful self. Sure, we still have moments where she fights with her sister or doesn’t want to obey, but typical kid stuff.
Pillow Pet Weighted Lap Pad
Weighted Lap Pads can get pretty pricey. Also, I wanted Isabella to be excited to use her lap pad at school and for it to not be stigmatizing with peers. As a part of the school’s behavior modification program, the kids in her class can earn days bringing in stuffed animals, which is Isabella’s favorite prize. So I thought a Pillow Pet would be a great solution!
Maybe what I should have titled this post was how NOT to make a pillow pet lap pad, because I sewed and resewed this bad boy like six times. So, I’ll give you my tips based on all the mistakes I made so hopefully you don’t have to repeat them. lol.
Weighted Lap pads should be no more than 10% of the person’s weight. Isabella is about 55 lbs, so no more than 5.5 lbs of weight in the lap pad. Also, since the lap pad is going to school, I wanted it to be washable. Plastic Poly Pellets (which are used for beanie babies, are a great solution but pricey. So I tried to make it using beans and a removeable insert. But the beans were so heavy the insert wouldn’t stay in place and kept falling out of the velcro closure. I ended up buying the plastic pellets from Michael’s, making 3 different trips so I could buy them using a 50% coupon each time. Also, we didn’t own any pillow pets so I asked my friends on FB and we were given one Pillow Pet Jr Moose and one large Pillow Pet Puppy. In all, I spent $15 on 6 lbs of pellets and the pillow pet was free! Pretty great deal compared to a $60 lap pad you can buy online!
Now on to the construction….The pellets wouldn’t fit in the small moose and had too much room in the Puppy. I ended up putting 5lbs of beans in the small moose, which will not be able to be washed, so Isabella uses that one at home when reading.
As far as the large Pillow Pet, it only ended up taking four easy steps!
1. Rip out the bottom seam on the Pillow Pet.
This is pretty self-explanatory, but go slow because of all the fur on the pillow pet. 🙂 Once your seam is ripped, pull out all the stuffing.
2. Use painter’s Tape to create sew guides on the Pillow Pet and sew three lines, bottom to top.
I found this little tip to be key! The fur makes sewing slow and hard to see whether or not you are sewing straight. I used a needle and thread (doubled for strength) because my sewing machine kept clogging with all the fur. These lines are super important though, otherwise, the pellets will all fall to the sides of the leg and your little one will not get any weight and pressure where it is needed.
3. Fill the four compartments with the Plastic Pellets.
My center two compartments ended up being a little bit bigger, but 5.5 lbs of pellets fit perfectly across the four compartments. I also found that a funnel got clogged, so I used a piece of paper folded in half to guide the pellets into the openings without spilling.
4. Sew the bottom closed.
This is probably the most important step. Be sure to sew the stitches very close together so the pellets do not leak out!
Finally, I added a cute little custom label that Minted sent me! How great are these? They are completely washable and permanent, which is perfect because I put enough effort into this project I didn’t want it getting lost or taken at school. Plus, its super cute!
Then of course, Lucy saw that Izzie had her special things labeled, so Lucy ran to get all her favorites and starting labelling hers as well! lol
While this post has taken me forever to write, I can share with you that since using the lap pad at school, our days have improved tremendously!!! It was almost instantaneous. She has been coming home happy, with more self-control and less frustration. Praise the Lord!!!
As Always, thanks for reading!