The Use and the Efficacy of Weighted Vests
Stephenson, J., & Carter, M. (2009). The Use of Weighted Vests with Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Other Disabilities. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39, 105-114.
Reviewed by Kathleen Moran, MA,
Why research this topic?
Sensory integration therapy involves providing controlled sensory stimulation through activities such as brushing or rubbing the body, deep pressure and compression of joints, and scooter boards. Along with such activities, interventions often include "sensory diets", that are activities and environmental adjustments intended to complement the individual’s sensory needs. An intervention that is often part of a sensory diet is wearing weighted vests, which are approximately 10% of the person’s body weight evenly distributed across the whole vest. It has been proposed that vests provide deep pressure that has a calming and organizing effect on the central nervous system. Although many children with autism receive sensory integration therapy and sensory diets, little research is available on whether or not interventions such as weighted vests have any effect on behavior.
What did the researchers do?
Researchers reviewed seven different studies that focused on weighted vests, involving a total of 20 students having a diagnosis of autism or another developmental disability and ranging from 2 to 11 years old. For each study, students wore weighted vests while actively involved in an activity. Sessions lasted 5, 10, 15, 30, and 120 minutes with a total of 11-25 sessions per child. The amount of weight ranged with each study approximately between 5-10% of individuals’ body mass.
What did the researchers find?
In four studies, weighted vests were found ineffective, with no significant effect on behavior. One study had mixed results and two studies were described by their authors as having positive effects. However, the researchers in the present review did not detect these effects when they inspected the data, and they noted that the studies had a number of limitations such as not monitoring what children did while they wore vests. The researchers also noted that wearing a heavy weighted vest may pose a risk of injury. The study review makes clear that wearing weighted vests has not been shown to have positive effects.
What are the strengths and limitations of the study?
This review provides important evidence that weighted vests do not appear to be effective and may not be safe. The review is limited by the paucity of studies on weighted vests but indicates that weighted vests are not a recommended treatment at this time.