I thought about my son and his very important blanket this morning as I offered an unhappy little girl a body sock, which is a stretchy fabric bag that a child can climb in and put over his or her head or pull just part way up like a sock fitted up to the waist. This morning, my young friend cried when her dad left to get some coffee. She kept crying as she climbed inside the sock and then stayed in the sock as we played our next game together even though her dad had returned. Sometimes I think the sock works just like any other distraction and simply takes a child's mind off the disappointment or anxiety of a stack of blocks falling down, another child winning a competitive game, or Tahirih saying all done after an exciting activity. But Occupational Therapists talk about the body sock, weighted blankets, and tight fitting vests as providing a child with "calming weight" or "calming pressure" which may well be true because I have never felt more calm and relaxed as after a deep pressure message--so there may be a physical reason why these things help a child regroup.
Sibylle Janert convincingly describes a more symbolic psychological calming effect in feeling contained in her delightful book, Reaching the Young Autistic Child, in a chapter called Dangerous Holes and Feeling Contained. I reread that chapter again today and revisited Tim who cried for seven months whenever he was not firmly held in someone's arms and Harvey who would not take his coat off at school and all the other children described in her chapter who found ways to feel contained in a confusing world.
It is not hard for me to recall many examples of my own of an upset child seeking out a small contained spot. Net laundry baskets, cardboard boxes, cupboards; I have even seen children try to climb into my Little Tykes doll house which is much too small but certainly looks inviting to many a child. One child who could not participate in small groups in a classroom, started taking his turn like the other children when he was allowed to do so from behind the teacher's desk. He started out under the desk, yelling out answers to the teacher's questions, but gradually popped up more and more often and finally decided that he would just come out and sit in a chair. Which reminds me of how much better the groups that I have led worked when children sat on chairs rather than on the floor. Even the containment of a chair seems to help many children feel secure enough to participate. Chairs with the child's name on it are even better.