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Have a Child with Anxiety? Weighted Vests May Help

Weighted vests are a type of deep pressure stimulation that provides a unique sensory experience to a child in the form of a wearable vest.  They are also commonly referred to as deep pressure vests or sensory vests.  The vests come in a variety of sizes and styles but all have the same purpose which is to provide pressure to the central nervous system in the body.  The pressure stimulates the nerves and helps to prevent disruptive behaviors the child may have.  Weighted vests are being introduced into public school settings for children with anxiety, aggression, and those that are withdrawn.  The vests help to include these students in the classroom with the rest of their peers instead of confining them to a general special education classroom.

When Can Weighted Vests be Worn?

Some students wear their weighted vests for several hours at a time throughout the school day.  Others wear them for a specified period or during a predetermined “stressful” environment.

It’s becoming increasingly common for school teachers and aids to have a weighted vest or another sensory tool such as a fidget toy or velcro strip on hand to give to a student when they need to be relaxed or calmed down.  There are a handful of manufacturers out there that make medical grade weighted vests for communal or shared environments like a school classroom setting.  Other manufacturers make custom weighted and fitted vest for each individual.  The vests are designed with removable weights which apply a comfortable, yet fitted pressure to the nervous system.

You should inquire with your child’s teacher or special education classroom to see if your school has invested in weighted vests or other sensory products.  They may be available for your use so check with the school before you purchase anything.

Deep Pressure Vest Scientific Studies

Weighted Vest Study Conducted in 2014

The American Journal of Occupational Therapy published a research study examining the effectiveness of weighted vests on children with ADHD in their March/April issue in 2014.  The study focused on how weighted vests impacted the child’s attention span, sudden movement and raged impulses, and focused behavior while wearing a vest.

110 children that were clinically diagnosed with ADHD were given a weighted vest to wear and therapists measured its effectiveness by using a CPT-II.  A CPT-II (Conners’ Continuous Performance Test, Second Edition) is an assessment given to children that are 6 years or older and is performed by clinicians or therapists to determine if a child has attention problems.  It typically takes less than 20 minutes and involves the child looking at a computer screen where they respond to pictures or letters that appear.

Results from children who wore the weighted vest during the CPT-II test showed an improved attention span.  Therapists also documented that the children responded faster to the CPT test when they were wearing the vest, as well as a decrease in fidgeting.  There was no significant effect in the areas of increased vocalization or impulse control, however, the clinicians involved in this study seemed to be happy with such positive results.

St. John Fisher College – Sensory Integration Study by Lindsay Clifford in 2013

Lindsay Clifford, a student at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY published a paper in 2013 on sensory integration and negative behaviors.  She was studying for her Masters of Science in Special Education at the time and was interested in conducting a study that focused on behaviors when introduced to sensory integration.  Clifford claimed that there was little to no data on sensory integration and its effectiveness at the time and wanted to share her beliefs and positive experiences with sensory integration with the rest of the world.

Clifford was a behavior therapist during the time her paper was submitted and she worked in a school of students who were autistic, had behavioral issues, and were classified as being mentally retarded.   She performed a study with 8 of her students – 4 males and 4 females – and documented any type of negative behavior or event that could trigger a violent or disruptive episode.

Clifford recorded 140 behavioral episodes during her study and found that 100 of those were resolved by the use of sensory integration in some form.

67% of those 100 resolved cases used deep pressure stimulation to de-escalate the episode.  The other 33% of episodes used another form of sensory integration that may have included the use of a compression vest, body sock, textile bin, fidget toy, medicine ball, or other sensory instruments.

Clifford noted that in 78% of her successfully managed episodes, the sensory instrument or deep pressure treatment was applied or administered within 5 seconds of the episode occurring.

Weighted vests may not be the fix-all solution for your specific situation, but they may help your child or loved one in a classroom setting or other location like a doctor’s office or on the school bus.  Those with sensory processing disorders that include ADHD, Autism, or PTSD, may find that these sensory products help to alleviate or even prevent anxious feelings or disruptive events.


Read more on sensory integration and innocuous touch in our other articles.

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