What's the difference between a compression vest and weighted vest for special needs?

by Alescia Ford-Lanza MS OTR/L, ATP January 10, 2018

What's the difference between a compression vest and weighted vest for special needs?

Compression Vests and Weighted Vests

For some children with sensory processing disorder, occupational therapists make a recommendation for wearable sensory supports. Two examples that offer deep touch pressure or proprioceptive input are: compression vests and weighted vests.

A compression vest does just what is sounds like it would do - it provides a deep squeeze or hugging feeling through tight-fitting compression that fits snugly against the wearer’s torso.

A weighted vest is a vest-like garment worn on top of clothing that is weighted based on the wearer’s total body weight - a concept similar to a weighted lap pad or weighted blanket.

Both supports provide deep touch pressure (DTP) which has a calming, organizing effect on the child and occupational therapists often recommend the wearables as part of a comprehensive sensory diet to help kids with self-regulation.  For more information on deep touch pressure, check out our Ultimate Guide here.

Research Support

Theresearch behind deep touch pressure is supportive for promoting physiological regulation (respiration rate, heart rate, blood pressure) andreducing anxiety. Since the design and purpose of weighted vests and compression vests target the proprioceptive system by increasing the amount of input, it is logical to make the connection that the positive findings of DTP research would also be the case in product-specific research.

Unfortunately, however, there is not a significant amount of research supporting compression vests or weighted vests specifically. The studies that have been done are typicallyvery small in scale andresults are inconsistent.  More research is needed to better understand and measure the observable changes with these products - from sensory, behavioral, attention, and social-emotional perspectives.

Formal research aside, some parents, therapists, and educators of children with sensory processing, ADHD, autism, anxiety, and OCD note measurable changes that encourage the continued use of weighted vests and/or compression vests. Many therapeutic companies agree and are conducting their own product-specific research in the hopes of solidifying the validity of these sensory products as research-based interventions.

Compression Vest Options For Children

Children who fidget excessively, demonstrate difficulties with attention and impulsivity, or have difficulty with body awareness may benefit from a compression-style vest or garment. These products can be worn to provide additional sensory input (proprioception) about where one’s body is in space (body awareness).

A wearing schedule is recommended and can vary based on your child’s needs. It is important to consult your occupational therapist for an individually-designed wearing schedule, but generally it could be 20-30 minutes worn, 20-30 minutes off, or activity-based duration. Some parents and educators feel that the compression vests are helpful during especially stressful times (i.e. school assemblies, doctor’s appointments). Should your child require additional, more consistent input throughout the day, consider adding a tight-fitting undershirt (lycra-based). Here are a few compression-style vests that are options:

  • TheSnug Vest is an air-channel filled vest that allows for customizable deep pressure to be evenly applied to the wearer’s torso. It’s available in child- or adult-sizes. It has a sporty look that the company proudly intended to support inclusion and reduce social stigma. For more information and the company’s research,check out their website here.
  • TheSqueaze Pressure Vest is another air-inflatable vest for kids and adults that has more of a utilitarian rather than fashion-minded design. Worn over a base layer (t-shirt), users will want to put a sweatshirt over the vest for a more discreet look. The company does sell sweatshirts that allow the vest to be zipped into. For more information and the company’s research,check out their website here.
  • TheSnug and Hug is a slightly different compression garment as it also provides deep pressure to the arms as well as the torso. The company that designed this product promotes it as more of a “wrap” than a “vest” so note that children who would benefit from this product do not have full use of their arms as they will be wrapped!  

      Weighted Vests or Wearables for Children

      Weighted vests come in a number of styles, fabrics, and weight options. No matter the design, the functionality of the vest is dependent on the amount of weight worn. There is no good research to support a hard-fast rule for how much to weight a vest, but 5-10% of the child’s total body weight is accepted as a safe limit for backpack weights and can be applied without risk of injury to developing bones and joints.

      Reasons for recommending a weighted vest can include: increase focus/attention in classroom, decrease self-stimulatory behaviors (stimming), and promote calm and self-regulation.

      Much like the compression vests, the wearing schedule should be advised by your child’s occupational therapist and should be paired with an activity. Some people notice improvements after wearing a weighted vest/garment for just 15 minutes, but with every sensory intervention, every child responds differently.

      Somewhat new to the market are varied sources of weight - you’re no longer restricted to just buying “vests” - weighted wearables are available as belts, lap pads, weighted animals, and even suspenders! However you’re looking to incorporate a weighted wearable, be sure to consider social perception and the level of awareness of your child and his peers when making your selection. Check out some of our favorites:

       

      Weighted Compression Vests and Wearables

      For some kids, just compression or just weight isn’t going to offer enough sensory input. Some wearables offer a combination of the weighted garment in compression fabrics and designs. Pair it with a tight-fitting compression undershirt for a super sensory dose of input!

      Takeaways

      Both weighted and compression garments offer deep touch pressure stimulation which research has supported to have a calming, organizing effect on people of all ages and diagnoses. Despite the lack of research, occupational therapists, parents, educators, and users continue to report benefits to these sensory wearables that warrant an individualized approach to exploring them as sensory tools for your own tool box. Let us know if your favorite sensory wearable made our list and how these sensory products work for you!

      Alescia Ford-Lanza MS OTR/L, ATP
      Alescia Ford-Lanza MS OTR/L, ATP

      Alescia Ford-Lanza MS OTR/L, ATP is an Occupational Therapist and Assistive Technology Practitioner with over 15 years of pediatric experience. She specializes in educationally-relevant interventions with a focus on sensory integration and assistive technology supports to learning. Alescia strives to help children by fostering a love of learning and supports families with her parent-friendly, informative blog posts. Alescia founded Adapt & Learn, LLC on the mission that children of all abilities can play, learn, adapt, and develop with the right therapeutic, family, and educational supports. You can get more information on Alescia and her practice at www.adaptandlearn.com


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