Weighted Therapy Devices For Autism

Children with autism have trouble with touch and sensation.  Their nerves do not respond in the same way as other people’s and subsequently a lot of special devices have been created to help them in this area.  Depending on the child’s need for this kind of therapy, there are a lot of choices  which leave some parents wondering what to choose.

What “Weighted Therapy Devices” Are, What They Do, And How Effective Are They?

There are some very good special needs educational equipment companies online.  If you can’t find them just by googling “autism support devices”, your son or daughter’s special needs teacher no doubt gets all of the catalogs from all of the companies.  You could always ask her or him for some company names and look them up or ask to borrow the catalogs.

The following is an assortment of products that provide weight or compression and how they stack up.  I got the information from friends who have autistic children and they have tried a lot of them with varied results, which I have also posted.  Obviously, since no two children with autism are alike, parents may want to try a middle of the road product and work down or up from there.

Compression T-shirts

These, a friend of mine thought, would be perfect for her son who has autism.  He seems to be soothed by the pressure applied to his back and arms when he feels really tired, upset or anxious.  She ordered one with a little rocket on it.  He loved it, but she was very disappointed.  For her $25, she got a regular soft brushed cotton t-shirt with a very little amount of spandex woven in.  The softness is what her son liked because he’s drawn to very soft fabrics; the “compression” did nothing at all.

The  better choice here, she and her son’s teachers felt, was probably a compression shirt from a sporting goods store.  It provided more compression  by a long shot than the t-shirt she bought.  Her son really had that need to be “hugged” by what he was wearing, not too tight but just enough. She also bought him a device known as a “pea pod” and it looks just like it sounds.  It’s inflatable and he sits or lays in it and gets the same compressed feeling that he would if he were still in the womb.

Weighted Vests For Autistic People

Weighted vests do not compress.  Instead they provide the feeling that one is being held down by the shoulders and can’t jump up.  It’s therapeutic for children who are petrified by any sensation on their backs, chests and shoulders.  The weights are very light at first, and over time they are gradually added to make the vest heavier until the child no longer feels afraid of just a parental hand on them or a teacher’s hand on their backs guiding them through a hallway or door.

These are met with mixed results, but for a specific cross-section of the ASD arc, they are a godsend.  If a physical therapist recommends trying one out, you can be pretty sure they have a good idea of how effective it will be for your child.  Chances are, he or she probably already wears one at school when he/ she needs it.  Effective communication between teacher and parent lets you know if this is the case.

Weighted Blankets For Autism

Although these aren’t used at school all that much, except maybe in Kindergarten, weighted blankets actually soothe a hyper or anxious child with autism by signaling to their bodies that it is time to rest.  Autistic children have a hard time settling down to sleep, and a weighted blanket works like magic.  It’s compression downward on top of their whole bodies, providing that secure womb-like sensation again.

They are also very effective therapy tools for children with sensitivity or hypersensitivity to touch.  Just like the weighted vests, the weights are gradually increased until the maximum therapeutic level is reached.  It might be tapered off or remain that way indefinitely.  Children will need some time to adapt to these new blankets because they do feel odd at first.  Some parents lay the weighted blankets on top of their child’s regular blankets to help them get used to it.

How to make a weighted blanket for autistic child

Weighted Lap Pads For Children With Autism

You can’t change the weights on these lap pads, which is the one major drawback.  A minor drawback is that, if the child with autism knocks it off his or her lap, the teacher’s aide is constantly putting it back on.  There is no way to secure it or keep it from falling off the child’s lap, not to mention that that is considered “restraining a child” and is illegal in most school systems.

That said, these also have mixed results.  Children with autism and ADHD who can’t sit still can’t seem to feel the seat of the chair under their little tushies.  The concept behind the weighted lap pads is that the weight of the pads helps them reconnect their sensory nerves in their buttocks with the sensation that there is something under them and they can sit down.  Some parents say they work like a charm, and others can’t get the pads to stay put long enough to find out.

At $30-$60 a piece, it’s up to you to decide if you want to try one.

Weighted Neck And Shoulder Huggers (Snuggle Snake, Puppy Hugs, Etc.)

They look like a cross between a neck pillow you would use in flight on an airplane and a puppet.  They feel like a massage tool.  Kids with autism really seem to gravitate towards them because they are silly looking and fun to play with.  Once they discover the weighted sensation they provide to the neck and shoulders, they never want to take them off.

There has yet to be a bad report or review on this device.  It’s a soothing and sensory integration item in one, and it really seems to work.  Different companies offer different animals, but some kids really seem to like the monkey version.  Hmmm…I wonder why.

Net Swings

A lot of parents wouldn’t even consider this a compression/ weighted device, until they sit in one themselves.  Net swings use the child’s own body weight to envelop them and apply pressure.  Along with the slow swaying or fast swinging movement they crave, it’s very comforting and helps them calm down.  Many children with autism could sit in a net swing for hours and be completely content.

A net swing provides a dual application; it’s sensory integration in the form of a swing and compression/ weight in the form of the enclosing net.  The ropes are too closely tied together for kids to get stuck in them, but parents should still stick near by.  Some net swing kits come with a doorway hanger, which is perfect for smaller apartments or parents who don’t want to install a reinforced swing hook in any ceiling of their house any time soon.

Weighted Belts For Autism and ADHD

The primary use for these is to get kids with autism to develop a sense of balance and really  feel the earth under their feet.  The reviews are mixed, because of course,  children with autism could wear these all day and not even notice they have them on, but then not really reap any benefits either.  They are an excellent alternative for lap pads however, because they will stay on and they provide the same sensory experience as lap pads.  There are several sizes available, so parents can buy the next size up as their child grows and/ or continues to need the weighted belt in the classroom setting.

It’s also effective for posture control when the child with autism sits on the carpet for circle, story or group time.  The pressure it provides in the small of their backs  reminds them to sit up straight rather than lay down, roll around, etc.  Whether or not it’s better than a weighted vest?  The jury is still out on that one.

Weighted Play Sets

This is actually very popular and parents have to check it out.  If you ever played “sandwich” or “steamroller” with your sibs as a kid, you would totally get why this would work and be fun at the same time.  The two most common versions are “playtime pizza” and “taco-to-go”.  All the “ingredients” are weighted, and the child with autism becomes the main “filler”.

During any moment of hyperactivity, parents and teachers can pull out these silly playsets, which even children without autism love to play with, and have quite a bit of fun.  A flat “tortilla” makes the base of the “taco” and the flat “crust” is for the pizza.  The child gets on the tortilla or crust, and everyone piles on the weighted ingredients over his or her body.  They are instantly soothed and will most likely have everyone laughing out loud the whole time.

I’m an adult, and even I would want to play with this.  There are weighted tomatoes, peppers, pepperoni, lettuce and a few other ingredients appropriate to each playset.  They are expensive, but if it helps soothe while encouraging a child with autism to engage in play with others, I would think it’s well worth the price.

Weighted Shoe Inserts

Sometimes children with autism have a difficult time putting one foot in front of the other without tripping or falling over.  When inner ear problems are ruled out, the autism remains.  The weighted shoe inserts are supposed to help them develop coordination and build a little leg muscle in the process.  Children with this type of problem may have a slight bit of dystonia in the lower legs, and more exercise, not less, along with physical therapy helps.  When they aren’t in therapy, the weighted shoe inserts can make a little difference, with the emphasis on little.

Wieghted ankle weights from the late seventies and early eighties would have a better impact than these little things that look like lifts for kids’ tennis shoes.  In fact, if parents can find strap on ankle weights, those are actually recommended more often over the shoe inserts.  The best thing shoe inserts do is make the child place his or her feet firmly on the ground.  That’s about it.

Weighted Hand Wraps

This is a product for older children who are learning to write.  It properly structures the hands such that they are able to grasp a pencil, marker or crayon in the typical fashion and keep it on the paper as they write.  For children who are having a difficult time applying enough pressure to the paper as they color and write, this is an effective product.  However, it’s not as heavy as one would expect.

They look a lot like sprained wrist supports, but are a little bumpier due to the weights sewn into the thumb and wrist areas.  It helps with wrist fatigue too, so children who tire easily when writing don’t completely “lose it” when they are learning to write and expanding their writing skills.  As a parent, if you can barely see the marks on your child’s paper when they draw or color, these would definitely  improve their small motor control and keep them from getting as frustrated as they would otherwise.

And So…

That is the total sum of weighted products for sensory and calming.  There are a few more for physical fitness, but that’s really all they are meant for.  Parents can consult with their child’s PT teacher at school to see which items might work for their child, if they really are set on trying something.  Prior to making a purchase, the school’s PT could help by trying whatever items they have available to see if they work.  It saves parents time and money buying something that doesn’t work and it’s a good resource to start with.

Related reviews,
1). Social games for autistic kids
2). Games for autistic children
3). Is lumosity worth it?

1 comment

  1. My son likes squeezed, not weights, so I too thought the compression tshirt would be great. I was greatly disappointed and felt ripped off – there is almost no compression there. We had several athletic compression shirts (lotsa soccer going on here) so that’s what we use now, though we only have one short sleeved one for summer.
    I also had an aha moment on his underwear – he has one pair of adidas that are very snug (elastic wise, not too small) and those are the ones he wants to wear ALL the time, but I’m a cheap underwear kinda person.

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