For kids with special needs, ASD, or SPD, proprioceptive feedback can be crucial to their development and help normalize the sensory input of their environments. One of the best ways to administer proprioceptive feedback to an individual with special needs is through weighted or compression items. We have all seen them, from weighted vests to squeeze machines, there are a lot of products out there to help administer proprioceptive feedback. We want to help you understand the ins and outs of why your child might need weight rather than compression, or compression rather than weight.

What is proprioception?

In the simplest terms, proprioception refers to the sense of your body’s position and movement in space. It’s how your brain knows where your arms are when your eyes are closed, how balanced you are, how fast you’re moving when you run, and, most importantly for this discussion, how much pressure and weight is pushing against your body. We won’t go in-depth here, but if you’d like a slightly deeper look at proprioception, you can read our article on proprioception here.

What can these items do?

Individuals that need a little extra proprioception or sensory input that is not being attained from their environment are often helped by a weighted or compression item. These items are not limited to vests but can include weighted blankets, sensory swings, and wrist or arm weights. They simply give the individual the feedback they are lacking, which can ultimately help with calming and focus.

What’s the deal with weighted?

Weighted feedback can help with regulating sensory input and output. In an article from Research Autism, it is stated that “Some people think that the pressure of the weights helps to calm people with sensory problems by changing how they process sensory information, allowing them to better feel their movements and understand where their bodies are in space.” By providing feedback to the body through weight, it can help an individual focus on the task at hand, instead of paying attention to the need for feedback.

Research Autism also states that the studies on weighted items are a bit flawed, due to too small a sample size in studies that did not provide extensive insights into the effects of weighted. That being said, there are many individuals, occupational therapists, teachers, and moms who note that weighted items have exponentially helped their child in times of need.

Occupational therapist, Emily Martin, recommends weighted items to help a child calm down before or after a meltdown. Since administering weight can release serotonin and dopamine, it can help calm high strung emotions post-meltdown.

We’ve all heard about weighted blankets, and these are tried and true ways of helping kiddos get to sleep. The body responds positively to the “hugging” feeling weighted items provide. That feeling tells the brain “I’m safe and secure,” allowing the user to calm themselves naturally. Again, these feelings of calm can release serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which can help soothe anxieties and whisk the little ones off to dreamland.

As a rule of thumb, weighted vests or weighted blankets should be 10% of the user’s body weight + 1lb. For example, if the user is a 40-pound child, a 5-pound blanket will work nicely. If the user is a 140-pound adult, the best choice is a 15-pound blanket. If you want to know the ins and outs of weighted blankets, we explain it in our Weighted Blankets article.

For other weighted items, like weighted vests or wrist weights, occupational therapists suggest that these items should remain on the person’s body for no longer than one hour with an hour between uses. Simply, weighted vests should spend an hour on the person, and an hour off.

What’s up with compression?

Compression, or items that administer deep pressure, are the counterpart of weighted items. There is a lot of discussion about compression and pressure therapy or items. Many individuals who have a loved one with autism believe that it helps a lot with calming. But why? you may be wondering.

According to Applied Behavior Analysis, “When you apply deep pressure to the body, the body switches from running its sympathetic nervous system to its parasympathetic nervous system. This is the so-called switch from ‘fight or flight’ to ‘rest and digest’.”

In a study by Occupational Therapy International, there were clear statistic benefits from their sample of children. The study claimed that many children found deep pressure rewarding. The results also noted that “research…seems to have used deep pressure as a means of improving mood and adaptability to the environment.”

Martin, OTR, stated that compression is a great tool to use with children to reduce anxiety, help regulate their sensory input, de-stress, improve proprioception and body awareness.

Compression can begin as easy and simple as a good, consensual, long hug or hold of your child. However, different settings call for different types of compression. Squeeze machines and sensory swings can be good for home, school, and clinic use. Compression vests and compression sheets are a great way to administer sensory feedback in a safe way for an extended period of time.

Weighted vs. Compression

Whether it’s weight or compression, it may be best to consult an occupational therapist. Since every child, diagnosis, and situation can differ, it is best to ask a professional what works best for your child. They can help set you up with the right tools and trials to understand whether or not your child may respond better to compression instead of weighted items.

Where can I find these items?

eSpecial Needs carries a variety of weighted and compression items for soothing and addressing proprioceptive sensory needs. Talk to your doctor or therapist for suggestions on what items might be best suited for your situation, then take a look at our weighted products or deep pressure and compression items at eSpecialNeeds.com