For many kiddos with sensory issues and autism, it can be extremely challenging to self-regulate their bodies. No matter how much they want to “behave,” their bodies are giving them different instructions. Imagine being asked to sit still while having an uncontrollable jolt of energy running through your body. This would be hard to manage as an adult, let alone as a child.
Weighted vests can help kids regulate their bodies, making it easier to avoid meltdowns, anxiety attacks, and periods of high energy.
A weighted vest is on my must have list of tools. They aren’t universal champions of the sensory world though. A lot of studies show that the jury is still out regarding the effectiveness of weighted vests. We’ll talk about this controversy and why I still believe that weighted vests are an option worth trying. Be sure to read through the end for my weighted vest recommendations.
The Facts Behind Weighted Vests
Before we dive into the science behind weighted vests, let’s look at the facts about their effectiveness.
The Good of Weighted Vests
A study found that 4 kiddos wearing weighted vests showed a 18%-25% increase in on-task behavior when wearing weighted vests.
A survey of pediatric occupational therapists reported that the most common behaviors that weighted vests improved were staying on task, staying in one’s seat, and increased attention span
A study found that weighted vests decreased the duration of self-stimulatory behaviors. For 1 participant, the duration didn’t change, but the nature of the self-stimulation was less abusive.
The Bad of Weighted Vests
A study found that a weighted vest actually had a negative influence on a kiddo’s ability to pay attention.
A study found no difference in the behaviors of kiddos wearing weighted vests and those not wearing weighted vests.
Not enough research has been done on the effectiveness of weighted vests yet.
Why I Love Weighted Vests
You may be thinking, “Um, you listed just as many negative facts about weighted vests as positive ones. Why are they so great?” Believe me, I could have gone on farther in both the positive and negative categories. But, you’ll get equally long lists about the positives and negatives of anything, whether it be the effectiveness of Vitamin D supplements or the merits of Seinfeld.
I love weighted vests because they work for SOME kids. For these SOME kids, they work really darn well. In the same way that you may focus really well when listening to music and your partner doesn’t, we all have things that help us and things that don’t.
All sensory tools come with a wide range of opinions and facts about effectiveness because all kiddos are so incredibly different. For some kiddos, weighted vests may be the miracle they’ve been waiting for. For other kiddos, weighted vests may be a hindrance and actually make their behaviors worse. And, there will be another group of kiddos for whom weighted vests have no impact at all and simply serve as a fashion statement (not a good one, if I do say so myself. Any designers out there who want to design more fashionable weighted vests?!).
When Weighted Vests Work, Why Do They Work?
When a weighted vest works, it’s taking advantage of the benefits of deep touch pressure. Tight hugs, weighted blankets, squishes under couch cushions, and weighted vests are all examples of deep touch pressure.
Remember how we were talking about kiddos being un-regulated and having little power to tell their own bodies to regulate themselves and calm down?
If you’ve ever heard of “fight or flight” mode, deep touch pressure basically tells the body to leave that fight or flight state and enter into a rest and digest state. For science buffs out there, deep touch pressure helps the body leave a sympathetic state (fight or flight) and enter into a parasympathetic state (rest and digest).
The benefits behind deep touch pressure are pretty remarkable and extensive. For the sake of our weighted vest convo, I won’t do a deep dive into them now, but be sure to check out my article on deep touch pressure to find out more about this great sensory technique.
So, Should I Try a Weighted Vest with my Child?
As with other sensory tools, you’ll never know if they work for your kiddo until you try them. Given how unique all of our kiddos are, nothing beats experiential learning and finding the unique solutions that are the most effective.
What I especially love about weighted vests is that they are inexpensive and non-invasive. Giving this tool a try is a fairly easy thing to do in comparison to buy a squeeze machine or something like that.
But, as I always say, be sure to consult with your child’s occupational therapist before introducing new treatment options. While I’m a fan of weighted vests myself, I can’t speak to your child’s unique needs.