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A Therapist’s Guide to Compression & Weighted Vests for Kids

Jun 03rd, 2024 | by Miranda Dichairo, MS, OTR/L

Miranda Dichairo, MS, OTR/L

June 03rd, 2024

In this blog post, a pediatric occupational therapist from the NAPA Center shares everything you need to know about compression vests and weighted vests for kids! We dive into weighted vest benefits, what the research shows, and how these tools can be helpful specifically for children with sensory processing differences or motor delays, such as autism, cerebral palsy, or low tone.

What Are Compression Vests and Weighted Vests for Kids?

Weighted vests are designed to be worn over clothing, while compression garments are designed to be worn under clothing. Both tools are intended to provide proprioceptive input to our sensory systems. Proprioception is defined as the body’s ability to:

  • Understand where we are in space
  • Grade the amount of force and speed needed during movement
  • Perceive the effect of gravity on our balance

Weighted vests and compression garments provide proprioceptive input via deep pressure stimulation. Think of it like getting a nice hug or a calming massage! It’s no wonder that research suggests increased proprioceptive processing has promising impacts on our behavioral regulation and motor control. When our nervous system is regulated, the rest of our body can function to its best ability.

What is the Research Behind Weighted Vests and Compression Garments?

Research on many sensory-based interventions is varied due to small sample sizes and a lack of extensive studies. However, when looking at the effects of weighted vests and compression garments on areas such as postural control and motor precision, the results are promising.

Some recent research suggests:

  • Compression apparel worn on the upper extremity can lead to a significant improvement in reaching accuracy, as it enhances sensory information related to proprioception (Barss, et al. 2018).
  • Compression garments resulted in decreased negative behaviors, improved postural control, and increased motor performance in Autistic individuals (Guinchat, et al., 2020).

Who Should Use a Weighted Vest or Compression Garment?

Based on the varied research, it is important to consult with an occupational therapist (OT) when considering use of these tools. OTs are trained in breaking down meaningful activities to determine the area(s) of dysfunction. When a child experiences difficulties that impact their independence in play, school, self-care, or social activities, OTs can make informed, evidence-based decisions on how to intervene. This includes the use of weighted vests and compression vests for kids in conjunction with other sensory-motor interventions to best meet a child’s goals!

How and When Should These Tools Be Used?

Weighted vests and compression garments come in a variety of styles or levels of support and can be made of a variety of materials, including polyester, neoprene, stretch denim, or fleece. It is important to note that a weighted vest should be no more than 5-10% of a child’s body weight. Compression garments also come in a variety of styles and levels of support, such as Benik vests, SPIO vests, and TheraTogs.

What is the Difference Between Weighted Vests and Compression Garments?

Weighted vests, being slightly bulkier, are typically recommended during seated activities such as schoolwork, fine motor play, reading, or mealtime. Compression garments are typically more flexible and can be worn during dynamic activities, including gross motor play and therapy.

Overall, according to both research and clinical experience, the benefits of weighted vests and compression garments include:

If you’re wondering if your child’s sensorimotor skills could benefit from a weighted vest or compression garment, reach out to an OT with your questions!

Bonus Video: What is the NeuroSuit?

In this video, NAPA’s Global Director of Intensive Therapy introduces the NeuroSuit, which is commonly used in weekly and intensive sessions at NAPA clinics.

Find Additional Resources in the NAPA Blog:

About the Author

NAPA Boston occupational therapist Miranda loves using a play-based approach when working with kids to reach their goals! In her free time, she enjoys drawing and anything outdoors such as hiking, camping, and snowboarding. She hopes to visit all National Parks one day!

About NAPA Center

At NAPA Center, our dedicated and highly trained physical, speech and occupational therapists use a diverse set of innovative tools and therapies delivered through intensive programs. These programs are customized specifically for each child based on their needs and provided at our centers in a playful and positive environment.

References:

  • Guinchat, Vincent, et al. “Compressive Garments in Individuals with Autism and Severe Proprioceptive Dysfunction: A Retrospective Exploratory Case Series.” Children, vol. 7, no. 7, 1 July 2020, p. 77, https://www.mdpi.com/2227-9067/7/7/77.
  • Barss, Trevor S., et al. “Effects of a Compression Garment on Sensory Feedback Transmission in the Human Upper Limb.” Journal of Neurophysiology, vol. 120, no. 1, 1 July 2018, pp. 186–195, https://doi.org/10.1152/jn.00581.2017.
TAGS: Blogs, OT
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