On January 20th 2018 The guardian published this article about children with ADHD wearing sand filled vests weighing up to 6kg. The article was both alarmist and greatly exaggerated. It then went on to give scant details about the challenges children with ADHD face in the classroom and did not show how they often suffer with their symptoms a a result. I talked extensively about how ADHD/ASC presents for one child in my school here and it isn’t hard to see how her behaviour affects the rest of the class. A suitable solution is needed for all concerned.
Weighted items come in many shapes and forms. They are available as jackets, vests, lap pads and blankets. The theory behind them is that they provide proprioceptive feedback for children with sensory processing disorders. Put simply, our bodies have receptors in the skin, muscle and joints that connect with the brain through the nervous system. Children with proprioceptive dysfunction may be uncoordinated leading them to have difficulty with stairs, have a lack of balance and struggle to sit still amongst other challenges. They are constantly fidgeting even when sitting down. As the children are unaware they have a problem they will try to self regulate by running, stimming, crashing into things and exhibiting disruptive behaviour.
The use of weighted items provides deep pressure that helps a child to feel centered and calm. This deep pressure provides proprioceptive input for the whole body. This could be as simple as a firm bear hug or a squeeze for the child who needs that sensory intervention. There are other ways of providing this deep pressure that involves having the child join in ‘heavy work tasks’. This could be carrying a heavy bag of books from one classroom to the next, or having the child put the chairs on the desk after each lesson. You could also encourage the child to perform press ups or sit ups or any other heavy activity that provides children with the proprioceptive input they need.
Our school has purchased several weighted blankets. Just as the Guardian article says there is no pressure for anyone to wear one but the children and young people who need them say that they help them. They actually ask to have the blanket on their knees or around their shoulders. When you witness the transformation in children who are calmed by the addition of a blanket it is difficult to disagree with weighted items. There are guidelines for the use of weighted items as @SensorySp has pointed out. They should be used in guidance from an OT and the length of time and how much weight is used is adapted to personal needs.
It is particularly unhelpful that our newspapers who do not understand children with SEND run with these stories. Parents who are unaware of the theory behind them should be invited into school to have sensory diet explained to them and to witness the benefits first hand. Our school has several children who have a much calmer existence thanks to the addition of weighted items.
Thank you for reading.