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Weighted vests for children with autism

Weighted vests for children with autism

It can be challenging for some children with autism to focus while at school, in the community, and even at home. Certain stimuli and environments can be distracting and cause them to want to get up from their chair and walk around or have a hard time focusing on what’s being taught or said. They may also face a lot of anxiety and engage in escape-maintained behaviors such as running away or engaging in meltdowns. One way to help with this is by providing multiple breaks. However, another method that can be used that many people are not as familiar with is using weighted vests. 

What is a weighted vest? 

A weighted vest is a garment that is worn like a vest and can either be worn over or under clothing. By itself, it can weigh from 0.5-6 pounds. However, additional weights can be added. On the inside of the vest, hidden pockets are typically present for the purpose of adding more weight. Weighted vests can also come in different colors and patterns for you and your child to choose from. 

The weight of the vest should be 10% of your child’s total body weight. Anything more than 10-15% can injure your child. Weighted vests can be used at home, outside in the community, and even at school. When taking it to school, ensure that your child’s teachers and staff are aware that they are wearing a weighted vest. It’s always important to keep your school and your child’s ABA team aware of any changes you are implementing with your child.  

What can weighted vests help with? 

Although weighted vests can provide some of the benefits listed above, every child with autism is unique. Results may vary between children. For example, a weighted vest may help your child focus and get better sleep at night. However, it may not be as helpful in reducing anxiety.

In addition, weighted vests do not cure autism or cure the challenges they face. The challenges are still there, however, these tools can help alleviate some of them. Either way, weighted vests can exponentially make a positive impact in your child’s life even if it is a small change. 

Weighted vests can help children with autism with: 

Focus

Focusing can be difficult for some children with autism, especially if it’s during a non-preferred activity. One way that can help them focus is the use of weighted vests. 

A study published in June 2022 hypothesized whether or not weighted vests can increase participation in activities. Activities included self-care, productivity, and leisure. It also included meaningful goals that may include activities that are not preferred by the participants. The participants consisted of 22 children aged 4-17. As a result, improvement in participation was evident. 

Better sleep

Think of a time when you had trouble sleeping and how great of an impact lack of sleep probably has had on your day. Quality of sleep is important and gives us the energy needed to deal with our day-to-day activities. Some children with autism may have a pattern of difficulty sleeping due to different stimuli.

Another study published in the Scandanavian Journal of Occupational Therapy made a correlation between utilizing weighted vests and stimuli related to weighted vests and sleep. This study was published in June of 2021 which investigated if utilizing weighted clothing or blankets had a positive impact on the quality of sleep for individuals with autism. The quality of sleep was correlated to the improvement of a child with autism’s day-to-day life. 

Participants included 48 children, 17 or younger, and 37 adults, 18 or older, and all had a history of sleep problems and were diagnosed with ADHD and/or ASD. The weighted blankets were prescribed to them between January 2012 and December 2015. 

The results stated that 59% of participants experienced an improvement in their ability to fall asleep. The amount of time it took to fall asleep was decreased and the total time slept in a night increased.  

Anxiety reduction

Although there is limited research that has been done on utilizing weighted vests on children with autism, there are studies that emphasize weighted vests and weighted blankets for those who are neurotypical but have anxiety. 

In this particular study conducted by Chang Gung University, the researchers looked into the physiological effects that weighted vests have on anxiety. The participants in this study were all neurotypical, as well as dental patients that expressed anxiety about going to the dentist. In addition, these participants did not have previous experience using weighted blankets before. 

While wearing a weighted blanket, 93% of the participants expressed that they did not feel anxious when they were getting treatment at the dentist. If these studies are similar across those with anxiety, it would be safe to say that weighted vests may have a calming effect on a great number of individuals with autism. 

Where can I buy a weighted vest for autism? 

When it comes to purchasing weighted vests online, you can find them on various websites, including Fun and Function. Fun and Function sells a variety of vests for children with autism, some of which come in different styles such as the denim weighted vest and the honeycomb weighted vest. On a side note, Fun and Function also sell sensory toys that your child may enjoy. You can also look for weighted vests on Amazon. The prices typically range from $52-$78. 

Disclaimer before purchasing a weighted vest

Before considering buying a weighted vest, it’s important to first assess if it is safe for your child to use it. Some children may have challenges with muscle strength that may lead to suffocation if a weighted vest is not used correctly and/or unsupervised. There must always be adult supervision when utilizing weighted vests or similar products. Also, note that weighted vests and similar products are only intended for children over 3 years old. 

If you are still unsure if weighted vests are appropriate for your child, please consult your physician and your child’s care team for assessment. 

What age group can use weighted vests? 

Any age group after 3 years old can utilize weighted vests. They are designed for children as young as 3 years old and for adults at 18 and up. As mentioned before, make sure that the weighted vests are at a maximum of 10% of your child’s body weight. When you are shopping for weighted vests, also make sure it is the right size for your child. 

Products similar to weighted vests

When utilizing a weighted vest, it may get some getting used to for your child as they learn to put it on and wear it for an extended period of time. Here at Forta, we want to ensure that your child can succeed and minimize any aversive situations. 

On the other hand, if your child is willing to wear weighted vests but they are not currently an option or you would like to explore similar products, some alternatives include: 

  • Weighted blankets
  • Compressed vests
  • Hand weights
  • Lap weights 

Weighted blankets

Weighted blankets are blankets that carry the same weight as a weighted vest. They can be put on a child when they go to bed or on their lap when they’re sitting at the table. Weighted blankets can also be found on any online website and should also not exceed 10% of your child’s body weight. 

Compressed vests

Compressed vests are an article of clothing that can go under or over your child’s regular clothing. However, in contrast to weighted vests, compressed vests are deep-pressure sensory stimuli that can reach the shoulder, chest, and stomach and are not weighted. You can find compressed vests on Special Supplies or you can also find them on Amazon

Hand weights

Palm weights or hand weights are also a type of compressed sensory stimulator that help improve focus for individuals with autism. They are specifically designed to assist them when engaging in writing, coloring, or drawing. When utilizing it for your child, please ensure there is adult supervision. 

Lap weights

Lap weights are very similar to a weighted blanket except they are much smaller in size. They can be easily carried to various environments. This can be used in the school setting, community, at home, and even on long car rides. Lap weights are designed for ages 3 years and up. 

In addition to lap weights, some online stores sell weighted lap pals which are stuffed animals that are filled with weights. These can be comforting if your child likes stuffed animals. 

Preparing your child for weighted vests 

Many children with autism thrive from knowing new events or changes in their life. It is important to help prepare your child for a weighted vest even if they are non-vocal. We’ve put together a few tips that you can follow to help prepare your child. Keep in mind that these tips are not mandatory to be followed in their entirety, and you can use them based on your child’s tolerance for change.

  • Show your child pictures of the weighted vest - This can help to reduce their anxiety about wearing the vest themselves and is a good first step in this process of preparation. 
  • Check with the merchant for easy returns - When you order the product, ensure there is a return policy in case your child is not tolerant of the weighted vest. You can use a physical calendar or even the calendar on your phone to visually show them when their vest will be arriving and try to use that anticipation to build excitement and a positive tone around the new change. 
  • Once it arrives, take out the vest with them -  Leave the vest on the couch or on the table and allow them to touch and explore it. Pair this vest with positive praise and your child’s preferences. They may even decide to put the vest on themselves. If they don’t, that’s okay too! 
  • Inform them that you are going to put the vest on them - You can say, “Okay, you try!” or “Your turn!”. If they are physically resistant to putting it on, try setting it aside to see if they want to put it on on their own. If they walk away from it and do not choose to wear it, it may be aversive for them and you can consider returning it. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your child’s care team for assistance and insight.  
  • Put it on - If they do not show any signs of physical restraint, then you can continue putting the vest on them. Check for signs of discomfort. Again, every child with autism is unique so as a caregiver, you know how signs of discomfort may look for your child. If no signs of discomfort are present, then the weighted vest is perfect for your child! Celebrate this moment for your child as it can mean that the weighted vest will have a positive impact for them. 

Putting it all together

Weighted vests can be a great tool to try out for your child. If your child is comfortable wearing weighted vests, it can make a difference and help your child navigate through daily activities more easily.  Even if it does not work out and your child does not tolerate it, that’s completely okay! There is nothing to lose, and all you did was check off one of the potential tools that may have worked for them. There are many other sensory tools that can try to help your child live a more comfortable life.

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