Do Weighted Vests Work for ADHD?




originally written for and published on Harkla.co

What is a Weighted Vest?

A weighted vest is just that: a vest-like garment that is worn over clothing, with some additional weight either sewn into pockets or embedded in the fabric lining. The theory behind weighted vests is to provide the child with sustained deep pressure input to his/her muscles and joints (proprioception) as this type of sensory input is known to be calming and organizing.

Occupational therapists often recommend these wearables as part of a comprehensive sensory diet to help children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) who have sensory processing disorder or self-regulation difficulties.

Sensory Processing and ADHD

If you’re a person with Attention Deficit Disorder, whether it be hyperactive, inattentive, or combined type, you may experience some level of sensory processing difficulty.

You may find yourself overly responsive to what is happening around you and struggle to filter out what is not important. In this case, sensory stimuli distracts you. Or, you find yourself under-responding or inattentive to details of your environment, clothes, tasks. In this case, you miss critical information that others around you are receiving without issue. No matter which example fits your profile, these are both indicators of sensory processing difficulty.

Impulsivity, emotional reactivity, overactivity, self-regulation or self-monitoring difficulties, and hyperfocusing can all be associated with ADHD. These issues can make it hard for a person with ADHD to know when it’s all too much -- before he reaches that threshold of response that puts him at sensory overload. Because he may not be as aware of his own sensory regulation needs, or the sensory experiences around him, the point of awareness often happens too late and sensory overload can occur.

A weighted vest is an example of a sensory tool that fosters self-regulation skills in children with ADHD.

Weighted Vests for ADHD

Weighted vests are designed to be worn on top of a child’s clothing. When choosing your child’s weighted vest, consider the following:

  • Set up your child’s weighted vest so that it is 5-10% of his body weight, evenly distributed within the vest. This is important as you do not want to overstrain their bodies with more weight than what is safe.

  • Consult your child’s occupational therapist for a wearing schedule and any specific tasks that might be appropriate to target for vest-wearing.

  • Some weighted vests have a lycra component that is form-fitting and offers active hugging or compression in addition to having weighted pockets. This may be helpful for children who seek out deep pressure and prefer tight-fitting clothes.

  • The fabric of the weighted vest is just as important to consider as the wearing schedule and weight factors! Choose fabrics that are preferred and suited to the activity level of your child.

  • Consider how often your child will be changing in/out of the vest and the easiest way to do that: snaps, zippers, velcro? Choose a vest that is constructed to meet your child at his/her independent level.

Tips & Takeaways

Weighted vests can be a helpful sensory strategy for children with ADHD when used appropriately and in-line with specific student needs. For more information on Deep Touch Pressure, ADHD, and sensory processing, be sure to check out the Harkla blog for additional resources.