Weight or Pressure? How to Choose Sensory Input

I remember a little jingle for candy bars when I was a kid and it went something like this, “Sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don’t….” The idea was you could choose the candy with nuts or without.  Similarly, when choosing a therapy tool, you can opt for weight or pressure.  Though these are not so different, our therapist team is often asked, “Should I purchase a weighted vest or a pressure vest for my child?” While it’s largely a matter of personal preference, here are some insights to help you choose.

 

Benefits of weight:

Weighted blankets and weighted vests can wake up the nervous system by providing resistance to the muscle belly.  Some accessories, such as this sash-like Fidget Keeper, come with weights that can be added or removed to adjust to individual needs.

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Resistance. By offering resistance to the muscle, the Golgi tendon organs are stimulated in the joints (joint receptors) and so, in a sense, the joints and muscles provide a great wake up call to the brain when weight is applied.

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Muscle Tone. With resistance comes more normalized muscle tone. Since many kids have low muscle tone (where the muscles are loose, floppy and not strong), a weighted item can help improve tone.

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Adjustable. A weighted vest, for example, can have removable weights and so weight can be added to the pockets or removed to alter the amount of resistance.  This means that you can adjust according to sensory needs or activities.

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Double Agent. Since weights can be removed, you can have a vest and usable hand weights for tossing, playing games or other purposes.

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Benefits of Pressure:

Pressure provides a different yet similar sensation to weight and is more generalized and uniform to the nervous system. Sometimes pressure can be preferred over weight for the following reasons:

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Natural hug. Pressure can feel like a natural and much needed hug. Wearing compression shorts, shirts or vests can calm and neutralize an over stimulated sensory system. Since it surrounds the body, you can have even pressure all over.

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Touch receptors. Wearing a compression vest or using a compression tool can stimulate touch receptors, creating a calming sensation and raising endorphin levels for a general sense of euphoria. Some items like a Space Explorer or Sensory Sleeves can even provide pressure through the head, forearms or other body parts.

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Constant. Pressure remains constant and does not vary other than when you choose to adjust the pressure (when wearing a vest).

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Of course, it’s always possible to have the best of both worlds with a weighted compression vest.The vest is like a big wearable hug that provides steady proprioceptive input (body awareness) with deep pressure and balanced weight that can be easily adjusted. The effect is so gentle, calming and reassuring, kids even ask to wear it.

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