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*All Children do not have the same sensory integration needs. Weighted vests should be used under the direction and advice of a healthcare professional or licensed therapist and should be worn while under adult supervision.
How does a weighted vest assist a child with a Sensory Processing Disorder?
Sensory Integration (SI) is based on the theory of the normal neurological process to integrate or organize all of our natural senses in a harmonious whole to survive, learn and to function smoothly. Typical individuals with an intact nervous system have the ability to be aware of time, place and person all at once this is called proprioception or referred to as the position sense.
In addition, they also have the ability to psychologically or organically determine and mix there 5 senses (Seeing, Hearing, Touching, Tasting and Smelling).
Children with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) or Dysfunction of Sensory Integration (DSI) and other developmental disabilities many times do not display these abilities. Most children with Dysfunction of Sensory Integration (DSI) can only handle one or two senses at a time. They can have unusually high or unusually low activity levels. When their senses are over-sensitive or under responsive they can act out certain behaviors to help them make sense of their world such as seeking out deep pressure, bouncing, running in patterns, head rocking, poor coordination, chewing on shirt, etc.
Weighted vests were designed to provide proprioceptive input (the unconscious awareness of sensations coming from receptors in one's joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments) and deep pressure to add weight to the body in the hopes that this will give the child's body enough delay time in their thought process to calm and make logical sense of their environment. Weighted vests also help with the position sense and body awareness through the sense of touch. The weights are evenly distributed around the body and help the child become aware of their body and its movements.
What are the benefits/downsides to using a weighted vest?
Benefits: First and foremost weighted vest therapy is a non-invasive therapeutic opportunity for the family, teacher, therapist and child. It can allow the child to understand their relationship to the world. To provide information about the child's movements and positions of the body. It can also be comforting and calming to the child. And when used according to each individual child's needs it can be a method to help modify behavior and increase feelings of safety.
Downsides: Some therapists feel that the vest should be limited in the amount of time it is worn because a child might accommodate to it. Each child is different and you must use the vest based on the circumstances or behavior(s) you are trying to help. When used this way, the behavior or activity dictates the amount of time the vest is needed.
If used as a time on/time off method or part of a time intensive sensory diet the caretaker's compliance can decrease and the full benefits of the vest are not seen.
Some therapists and teachers don't like to use the vest because they have to struggle to get it on and keep it on. The use of the weighted vest forces their body to come down from a natural high and helps their autonomic nervous system to slow thing downs.
How often and for what time duration would you recommend using a weighted vest?
Remember you are trying to help and comfort a child when using the vest. It may work today for one situation and tomorrow for another. The behavior/situation is more important than time especially in today's world when parent's are overwhelmed as it is. Having them use the vest for 20 minutes on and 5 minutes off or some time concept will decrease the compliance of the vest and therefore the full effect will never be realized. The added weight the vest provides does help to retrain the nervous systems ability to handle sensory over or under stimulation.
How is a weighted vest best used in the classroom and at home?
Behavior or as an aid for coping. What is it that you want to change or help the child with? It could be as simple as sitting still during story time or using it with a child who likes to spin at inappropriate times as a way of coping with her world. The vest may be best used prior to an intensive activity and accompanied with physical movement such as at recess right before the child needs to attune to a fine motor task. Any situation that provides over stimulation such as a shopping mall. Or a child who prefers under stimulation as the norm and is rigid to their world.