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What Are the Benefits of Weighted Vests for Children?

Jun 03rd, 2023 | by Courtney Shea, OTR/L

Courtney Shea, OTR/L

June 03rd, 2023

In this blog post, a pediatric occupational therapist from the NAPA Center dives into the benefits of weighted vests for children, focusing particularly on those with sensory processing challenges and children with autism.

What is a Weighted Vest?

A weighted vest is a wearable garment with the capability of holding weight, typically a vest with sewn internal pockets where small ½ or ¼ pound weights can be placed. The weight and compression delivered by the vest provide proprioceptive input using deep pressure to the muscles and joints, which sends signals to the brain, helping a person feel calm and focused. On a potentially relatable level, it resembles a firm hug, without the emotional connotations!  

Weighted Vests and Autism: What You Need to Know

First and foremost, the use of a weighted vest with a child on the Autism Spectrum is merely a tool in the toolbox. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) often have difficulty processing and integrating sensory information throughout their day. It is important to work with an occupational therapist to explore a number of sensory-motor strategies to help your child achieve their goals and access their environment more independently. The use of a weighted vest in pediatric occupational therapy practice may or may not be a tool that helps meet your child’s sensory needs, but it is likely worth exploring. 

It resembles a firm hug, without the emotional connotations!  

What Are the Benefits of Weighted Vests for Children?

The benefits of a weighted vest can occur in a very wide range, with the most frequently reported being increased attention, focus, and concentration, as well as an increased sense of calm and a reduction in anxiety. 

Additionally, other mentioned benefits include improvements in:

What Are the Benefits of Using This Tool, Specifically for Autism?

It is believed that when the central nervous system is well-regulated, all physical processes take place more effectively. Due to this belief, the benefits of weighted vests may even extend to the child’s internal processes, including processing food more effectively, encouraging better sleeping habits, and impacting interoception (the sense of the body’s internal conditions including hunger, thirst, body temperature, etc.).   

Always Observe Your Child While Wearing Their Weighted Vest

Due to limited scientific evidence marking the effectiveness of weighted vests, it is important to consistently observe a child when wearing this item. For children who are non-verbal, it is even more important to observe and note any displays of physical discomfort or distress. Additionally, for any child who is anxious, this added input may be more anxiety-provoking and may not be the right tool to utilize.

Look For Positive Feedback From Your Child

That being said, maybe the most important source of information regarding weighted vests or any other weighted items for autism is the child! Observing the child to see any changes in their self-regulation or attention or listening to any reports of “feeling good” or “I like it” may be the evidence needed for continued use of this tool!  

Weighted Vest Tips and Guidelines:

There is no harm in trying a weighted vest on a toddler or an autistic child. However, working with an occupational therapist who has evaluated your child and can provide additional support by exploring this tool is important. Below are some tips to ensure the safety and comfort of your child while wearing this kind of vest.  

  • Start light and slowly increase weight! The vest should weigh no more than 5-10% of the child’s body weight. For example, if your child weighs 50 pounds, then the vest should weigh no more than 5 pounds.  
  • The weight should be evenly distributed throughout the vest, around the midsection (pockets sewn on the interior circumference of the vest allow you to add/remove weight when needed), and the vest should be snugly fit to your child’s body.  
  • Avoid habituation: have your child wear the vest for no longer than 15 minutes at a time. Following approximately 15 minutes of wearing, a child will habituate to this newly imposed sensory input, and it will no longer be an effective tool.  
  • Schedule 2-3x per day (one morning, one afternoon) for no more than 15 minutes per wearing schedule.  
  • Keep in mind that removing the vest is just as much of a sensory experience as donning it in the first place. So, directly after wearing, you will likely see a benefit as well, and then your child will, again, get used (habituate) to the feeling without the weight of the vest.  
  • Choose the timing of the wear schedule wisely. It is most appropriate and effective to implement the use of the weighted vest during times when your toddler or child may be completing activities such as school work, crafts, eating, playing games requiring communication (utilizing AAC devices to engage during family game time), etc. as these tasks require increased attention/focus. For instance, having your child wear the vest during times when they are passively watching TV or using devices would not be beneficial. 
  • Similar to rotating toys or other sensory strategies, using a weighted vest may come in handy sometimes, and may not be beneficial at other times. It may work for 6 months consistently and then completely lose its appeal!
  • Sensory needs constant change, and it may be worth putting it back into the mix down the road, while trying other tools or strategies!

Some Alternatives to Consider and Discuss With Your OT:

  • Compression garments (may be worn for longer durations, provides consistent input, and does not shift like weighted vest might)
  • Weighted lap pads (especially for older children who may be reluctant to wear a vest that is “different” from their peers).  

Please consult your OT for details regarding the above-mentioned fitting and the wear schedule for your child to optimize the safety and functional use of this tool.  

Find Additional Resources in the NAPA Blog:

 

About the Author

Courtney Shea is a pediatric occupational therapist at the NAPA Center in Boston. In her free time, she enjoys being outdoors with her family and their dog Kolana. She is often caught overpacking for weekend getaways and adventures. If staying local, she enjoys long-distance runs along the Charles River alongside her husband, taking turns pushing their son in a jogging stroller!  

About NAPA Center

At NAPA, we take an individualized approach to therapy because we understand that each child is unique with very specific needs. For this reason, no two therapeutic programs are alike. If your child needs our services, we will work closely with you to select the best therapies for them, creating a customized program specific to your child’s needs and your family’s goals. Let your child’s journey begin today by contacting us to learn more.

TAGS: Blogs, OT
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