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 may or may not be a tool that helps meet your child’s sensory needs but is likely worth exploring.
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 provides 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!
The benefits 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 reduction in anxiety.
Additionally, other mentioned benefits include improvements in:
It is believed that when the central nervous system is well regulated, all physical processes are taking 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 internal conditions of the body including hunger, thirst, body temperature, etc.).
Due to limited scientific evidence marking the effectiveness of weighted vests, it is important to consistently observe a child with Autism when wearing this item. For children who are non-verbal, it is even more important to be observing and noting 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. That being said, maybe the most important source of information regarding this topic 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!
There is no harm in trying a weighted vest on a child who has ASD. However, it is important to be working with an Occupational Therapist who has evaluated your child and can provide additional support through exploring this tool. Below are some tips to ensure the safety and comfort of your child while wearing this kind of vest.
Sensory needs constant change, and it may be worth putting it back into the mix down the road, while trying other tools or strategies!
Please consult your OT for details regarding above mentioned fitting as well as wear schedule for your child in order to optimize safety and functional use of this tool.
Courtney Shea is a paediatric occupational therapist at the NAPA Centre 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!