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OT Guidelines for Weighted Vests

author image Lisa R. House
Based in New York City, Lisa R. House has been actively involved in the health and fitness industry for more than 20 years. She is a Tough Mudder Finisher, triathlete, ballroom dancer and former fitness competitor. Her certifications include Zumba and NASM. She holds a Master of Science in nursing from The Ohio State University and a Juris Doctorate from Capital University Law School.
OT Guidelines for Weighted Vests
The word autism written multiple times in rainbow colors. Photo Credit: MattZ90/iStock/Getty Images

Weighted vests apply deep pressure to calm the nervous system. They also provide trunk stability. The vests are used for children and adults who have sensory-processing disorders, such as autism and attention-deficit disorder, and movement disorders, such as ataxia, Parkinson's disease, dystonia and ataxic cerebral palsy. The vests are also used for stress reduction in individuals with anxiety or Tourette's syndrome. General guidelines exist regarding the amount of weight to use and the length of time to wear the vest; however, no standard guidelines exist.

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Sensory Approach

Deep pressure has a calming effect on individuals with sensory-processing disorders. The inability to properly process sensory information makes performing routine daily activities and learning difficult, because the lack of response or the exaggerated response to sensory stimuli causes these individuals to become easily distracted, agitated and/or less attentive. The deep pressure works on the central nervous system and aids in the processing of sensory information so that individuals with sensory-processing disorders can perform routine tasks in an organized, attentive and calm manner.

Trunk Stability

External trunk stability is important in people with movement disorders. The placement of the weight in the weighted vests helps achieve the necessary trunk stability. Placement of the weight on the shoulder girdle provides greater trunk stability and greater spinal support and creates deep pressure around the chest and upper back.

How the Weighted Vest Works

Weighted vests are designed to be worn over regular clothing, and some are designed to look like normal clothing. The weights are not visible from the outside of the vest. The weighted vests apply deep, constant pressure, which provides a calming effect on the central nervous system resulting in more purposeful movements, increased attention and decreased agitation. This allows those wearing the vests to be more organized in their movements and show greater attention to tasks. Some research, however, has shown that children with developmental delays and autism demonstrated no difference in their attention-to-task behaviors.

General Guidelines

At the time of publication, only general guidelines exist regarding the weighted vests. The length of time and the amount of weight to place inside the vests are the two general guidelines. Practitioners generally recommend that the vest be worn no longer than one hour at time and that the weight be no more than 5 percent of a person's total body weight. These recommendations are guidelines, however; they can and should vary from individual to individual. Some researchers caution that improper use and adverse effects could result without the implementation of standard guidelines.

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