Effects of Weighted Vests on the Engagement of Children With Developmental Delays and Autism

Reichow, B., Barton, E. E., Sewell, J. N., Good, L., & Wolery, M. (2010). Effects of weighted vests on the engagement of children with developmental delays and autism. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 25, (1), 3-11.

Reviewed by: Briana Tingler, MA, BCBA and Karen Fried, PsyD, BCBA-D

Why research this topic?
Weighted vests were developed as a treatment for individuals with autism and developmental delays and are intended to improve behavior by regulating and organizing sensory input. Although weighted vests are popular, their effectiveness remains unclear. The present study aimed to use a strong experimental design to examine outcomes of weighted vests.

What did the researchers do?
Participants were three boys, age 4 to 5 years, two diagnosed with autism and one with developmental delay. They attended a university-affiliated, inclusive early childhood center and were already using a weighted vest before the study, which their teacher considered beneficial. Sessions occurred in each child’s usual classroom during morning table-time. Three different conditions were alternated across the 5-day study: (1) wearing a weighted vest (5% of child’s body weight per guidelines in occupational therapy literature), (2) wearing an unweighted vest (padded with foam so that it appeared similar to the weighted vest), and (3) wearing no vest. Five behaviors were measured: (1) engagement (purposeful, appropriate manipulation of materials or attending to a teacher or peer), (2) non-engagement, (3) repetitive behavior or mouthing materials, 4) problem behavior (crying, aggression, hitting, kicking), and (5) face out of view. Data were recorded every 10 seconds on the occurrence or non-occurrence of the behaviors during the first 10 minutes of table-time.

What did the researchers find?
Two participants showed no differences in any behavior across the three conditions. One participant displayed more problem behavior and slightly less stereotypic behavior when wearing a weighted vest than in the other conditions.

What are the strengths and limitations of the study?
This study used a rigorous experimental design with well-defined behaviors, clear description of experimental procedures, and use of “imposter weights” made of foam to keep observers blind to the condition. Limitations were the inclusion of only 3 participants and a short study period (5 days), preventing the detection of longer-term or delayed effects (if any).

What do the results mean?
These results, obtained from a well-designed study, do not support the use of weighted vests as a treatment for children with autism or developmental delays.

Please use the following format to cite this article:

Tingler, B., & Fried, K. (2016). Research Synopses: Effects of Weighted Vests on the Engagement of Children With Developmental Delays and Autism.Science in Autism Treatment, 13(4), 39-40.