by Capital Area Speech Therapy’s Occupational Therapists
If you have been attending occupational therapy sessions or learning more about sensory processing, you may have heard about weighted vests and wondered about them.
So what exactly are they?
A weighted vest looks similar to a regular vest a child might wear, except that sewn into the waistline and upper back are pockets meant for holding small amounts of weight. This added weight can be a very useful tool for helping to calm and organize a child who is highly active or easily dysregulated. For these kiddos a weighted vest can provide calming input to their body that helps to keep them at just the right level of alertness and activity for learning or participating in activities.
How does it work?
Weighted vests provide children with proprioceptive input and touch pressure. These are essentially the same kinds of calming sensations your body receives when you get a massage, sleep under heavy blankets, or share a big squeeze with a loved one. It’s that even, calming input to your muscles. By providing this kind of input at regular intervals throughout the day, the child is better able to stay regulated and focused.
If you are interested in trying this with your child, talk to his or her occupational therapist and ask about the benefits or need for one. The therapist will discuss specific recommendations for your child, but here are some general guidelines. For starters, your child should still be able to move around freely and safely, without danger of falling over or feeling as though he or she is straining to move. Remember, the purpose of a weighted vest is not to weigh the child down, but to provide additional sensory input. Typically, the weight will start off at around 5% of the child’s body weight, and will increase only as needed. Additionally, your child will only wear the vest for a specific amount of time, then remove it, cycling through the day this way. Your OT will discuss with you how long to keep it on and off. Weighted vests are only one part of the therapeutic plan to address a child’s sensory needs, and are used best in combination with other organizational and sensory integrative techniques.