An autism weighted vest is a therapeutic garment designed to reduce hyperactivity, distractibility, and self-stimulatory behaviors in children with autism or other pervasive developmental disorders.
Using an Autism Weighted Vest
Using an autism weighted vest on a child with sensory integration or pervasive developmental disorders may help calm the child by altering the way his body perceives and interprets incoming sensory information. The vest provides constant, deep pressure to the torso, enabling the child to process proprioceptive input better and to understand where his body is in space.
Weighted vests are available through specialist suppliers or second-hand through some organizations and parents of autistic children. They are available in many shapes, styles, and materials, and most weighted vests work both under and over clothing. You can also make an autism weighted vest at home using an existing vest, small weights, and stitched pockets.
Benefits of Weighted Vests
The use of weighted vests is controversial, with many experts believing they can cause more harm than good. Some parents, educators, and researchers, however, strongly support the use of weighted vests for children who are hyperactive, highly distractible, or who crave additional sensory input. Possible benefits of weighted vests include:
- Some children who are easily distracted or lack concentration may find the vests calming.
- Some evidence shows that children with autism, ADHD, sensory integration disorder, and other neurological conditions may experience improvement in sensory integration and attention when wearing a weighted vest.
- When used by a trained professional and with the child's permission and cooperation, weighted vests are safe to wear.
- The variety of designs and materials available mean children can wear the vests under their clothing. This decreases the likelihood of teasing or other issues at school.
A number of studies have looked at the benefits and risks of using weighted vests on children.
A study published in the 2001 issue of the American Journal of Occupational Therapy found that children with PDD who used a weighted vest showed improvement in attention and a decrease in self-stimulatory behaviors. In contrast, a 2004 study concluded that wearing a weighted vest did not cause improvement in attention but did cause an increase in negative behavior.
A more recent study in the 2009 issue of the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders examined engagement in children wearing a weighted vest compared to those without a vest. This study showed that problematic behaviors increased, in some cases significantly, in children wearing a weighted autism vest.
More research is needed before a determination of effectiveness is reached.
While little evidence supports the use of weighted vests for the treatment of autism or sensory processing disorders, some children experience a reduction in symptoms when using weighted vests in the classroom or at home.
If you believe your child may benefit from an autism weighted vest, consult your child's school, pediatrician, or occupational therapist for information on obtaining and using a vest. Children should use weighted vests only under the direction of a trained occupational therapist or other professional.