International Meeting for Autism Research (London, May 15-17, 2008): Behavioral and Physiological Effects of Weighted Vests for Children with Autism

Behavioral and Physiological Effects of Weighted Vests for Children with Autism

Thursday, May 15, 2008
Champagne Terrace/Bordeaux (Novotel London West)
S. Hodgetts , Rehabilitation Medicine, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, Canada
J. Magill-Evans , Occupational Therapy, University of Alberta
J. Misiaszek , Occupational Therapy, University of Alberta
D. Sobsey , Educational Psychology, University of Alberta
Background: Sensory dysfunction is frequently reported in children with autism, and can impact their ability to participate in classroom activities. Weighted vests are commonly used to improve classroom participation.  Somatosensory stimulation provided through a weighted vest is thought to mitigate sensory dysfunction through effects on the autonomic nervous system. 
Objectives: This study investigated behavioral and physiological effects of weighted vests for children with autism. We hypothesized that: (1) wearing a weighted vest would result in decreased off-task and stereotypic behaviors, (2) improved behavioral outcomes would correlate with changes in heart rate, and (3) teachers and educational assistants would find weighted vests acceptable.
Methods: A single-case, randomized and blinded, ABAB/BABA design (A=vest with 5% body weight, B=unweighted vest) was used to assess the effects of weighted vests for 4 children with autism (ages 5 to 10) in the classroom. Participants were videotaped during a structured table-top activity, part of the daily classroom routine. Heart rate was collected when participants wore the vest using Polar Vantage XL chest monitors. 
Results: Preliminary analysis suggests that the weighted vest was associated with decreased off-task behavior in 3 of 4 participants based on percent of non-overlapping data points (PND = 70-89%), and decreased stereotypic behavior in 1 participant (PND = 60%). Only 1 participant had a change in heart rate, with an increased heart rate with the weighted vest. Teachers and educational assistants reported that weighted vests were beneficial for the participants, and that they will continue using weighted vests in the classroom.
Conclusions:  Weighted vests may be an effective and acceptable strategy to help decrease off-task behaviors in the classroom for some, but not all, children with autism. It remains unclear whether behavioral changes are related to changes in autonomic nervous system functioning. Additional children are being recruited to provide further data.
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