Weighted Clothing For Autism: Everything You Need to Know
Weighted clothing for autism can help by reinforcing a sense of where your body is in space. It usually comes in the form of vests or sweaters, boosting serotonin and lowering cortisol levels via deep touch pressure. Therapists have recently started using it as an anti-anxiety intervention
Autistic people normally wear weighted clothing on the torso, with weight evenly spread throughout.
Through deep touch pressure, the weight can stimulate serotonin production and lower cortisol levels.
Weighted clothing should be about 5-10% of your total body weight if used as a therapeutic tool.
Did you know?
Researchers have studied the effects of weighted vests as a therapeutic tool for over 30 years. Findings aren’t conclusive, but many therapists find it to be a useful tool with some autistic patients.
Do you or a loved one struggle with anxiety associated with autism? Are you having troubles with stress and looking for solutions?
Weighted clothing for autism may be one potential tool that helps relieve those symptoms.
Therapists have been using weighted objects like blankets and vests as a therapeutic device for those diagnosed with autism for years. The extra weight can help adjust hormone levels in the body associated with mood. In turn, that can lead to lower stress levels.
The History of Weighted Clothing For Autism
Occupational therapists have used weight in their therapy for a long time now. It started more than 30 years ago when specialists like Dr. Temple Grandin showed the effects of deep touch therapy as a tool to relieve stress and anxiety in autistic patients.
Eventually, therapists found weighted blankets to be a good way of applying this new type of therapy, creating a calming sensation as gravity gently pushes fabric down on the body. Kind of like a really, really good hug.
You can get the effects of deep touch therapy via a special massage, a gentle touch, or even weighted objects. And as the effects of weighted blankets became clearer, they became more popular, inspiring therapists to test out other variations like weighted clothing for autism.
What Does Weighted Clothing For Autism Look Like?
In a therapeutic setting, professionals sometimes use weighted vests that look similar to what you might see on an athlete doing extra-tough chin-ups. Small weights are distributed evenly across the vest so that it applies consistent pressure across the body.
The Neurological and Physical Abilitation (NAPA) Center states that, “The weight should be evenly distributed throughout the vest, around the midsection.”
If you’re looking for something a little less post-apocalyptic, there’s good news. Weighted clothing options exist that are weighted while also looking stylish.
Bearaby’s Weighted Cardigan: The Napigan
Our Napigan is made with 100% organic cotton, tightly woven to be stylish and comfortable while still providing calming weight. No iron slabs necessary. It’s also pre-washed so that you can pop it on and experience the buttery softness right out of the package.
The Napigan comes in two different styles: Tri-color Ribbons and four-color confetti. If you’re looking for something heavier, the Ribbons Napigan might be the right choice at 7 lbs. The Confetti Napigan comes in slightly lighter at 5 lbs.
Both are made with sustainable, Fairtrade cotton, so your body and mind can both be at ease.
Benefits of Weighted Sweaters
There’s a good deal of positive scientific findings when it comes to weighted blankets. If weighted appropriately, (roughly 10% of body mass) research shows that they can lower cortisol levels, reducing stress
Another effect is that serotonin levels rise, leading to an improved mood. There may also be benefits to melatonin production, helping you get to sleep easier.
Unfortunately, there aren’t such conclusive findings for weighted clothing, and research has mainly focused on its effects in the classroom.
One such study from Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders found that the calming effects can lower off-task behavior in autistic students. However, results tend to be too varied to conclude that they’re a miracle cure that works across the board.
As with any therapeutic method, the outcome depends on the patient’s individual needs.
Why Does Weighted Clothing Help Autism?
So, weighted sweaters and vests can have the ability to soothe via deep touch pressure. But what exactly does that mean?
As the weight from these objects gently presses down, it stimulates the muscles and joints beneath the skin. This stimulation does two important things.
First, it can naturally lead to the body regulating its hormones differently. More specifically, the body gives serotonin (one of the feel-good hormones) a boost, and says, “not today” to cortisol (the fight-or-flight hormone).
This re-balancing of hormones can be hugely beneficial for autistic people because one byproduct of the disorder is periods of heightened anxiety or stress. If used effectively, the extra weight can slowly ground that spiraling mood, a process known as “earthing.”
The second reason weighted vests help is because it allows for better spatial awareness and sensory processing, something that some autistic people have difficulties with. As the weight presses down, they may be able to make better sense of the physical space around them.
How Effective is Weighted Clothing?
It’s important to note that therapeutic tools are almost never one-size-fits-all. Weighted clothing is no different.
One research review concluded that weighted vests for autism are not an evidence-based practice, meaning that they couldn’t recommend it generally for therapy. However, within many of the individual studies, there were cases where the technique was effective. It all depends on the person
For many, a weighted therapy cardigan for adults, like our Napigan, is a great way to boost the mood. It works similarly to our Cotton Napper weighted blanket by enveloping you in a chunky knit that keeps you warm and gives you a secure feeling.
Weighted clothing can act as a safe harbor during stressful times.
Weighted Clothing Weight
If you’re thinking of strapping in and enjoying the heavy ride, there’s one main piece of advice to keep in mind.
Similar to knitted weighted blanket, a weighted garment should be tailored to your specific body mass. It can be lower than the 10% recommended for weighted blankets because it’s only covering your upper body. However, you don’t want to go too far below 5%.
For example, the range for a 100-lb person would be roughly 4-10 lbs. This falls right in line with the weight of the Confetti and Ribbon versions of our Napigan. At 5 and 7 lbs, they can work for other body weights, too.
How Often Should You Wear Weighted Clothing?
How often you should wear weighted clothing depends on the type and what exactly you’re using it for. For example, occupational therapists generally use therapeutic vests as an intervention tool when an autistic child is experiencing distress. During more stable times, the vest can be put away.
The reason for not using it consistently has to do with fears that the body will become accustomed to the weight and the effects will grow weaker with time. For that reason, you may want to consider using it less frequently if it’s for anxiety intervention.
However, if you’re an adult, how long you should wear weighted clothing can be a matter of preference. Some people prefer to use it only as an intervention tool while others treat it as a comforter that greets them when they get home
Of course, you can even go out on the town in weighted clothes if you choose. The world is your oyster!
Want to know more? Here are the answers to some common questions on the topic of weighted clothing
Does Weighted Clothing Help Kids With ADHD?
Similar to autism spectrum disorder, weighted clothing can help kids with ADHD through deep touch pressure. However, it’s not a magic bullet that helps with all ADHD-related symptoms.
A 2018 research review compiled information from 18 studies, making a recommendation for future use in some therapeutic settings. The most positive data showed that weighted vests were moderately successful at helping subjects in the studies stay on task. There was also improvement in fidgeting.
However, the review wasn’t able to find evidence that weighted vests improved sleep.
Why Do Autistic People Like Tight Clothes?
Some autistic people like tight clothes because it helps them to align their senses with their position in space. This relates to a condition that many autistic people struggle with, called proprioceptive dysfunction where senses don’t always match with body position.
Research has shown that tight clothing can help with this by creating a similar deep touch pressure sensation to weighted clothing. The tighter garments worn on the legs and upper body can improve with various side-effects associated with autism spectrum disorder, like poor posture, balance and motor control.
Similar to weighted clothing, this depends on the severity of the condition and the person wearing the clothing themselves.
Does Wearing Weighted Clothing Build Muscle?
Wearing some types of weighted clothing can build muscle when combined with exercise. For example, weighted vests can make chin-ups much more difficult, allowing for greater muscle growth when done consistently. Even ankle and wrist weights can help build muscle through workouts that engage the legs and arms.
However, this is not the goal for an autistic person. For them, wearing weighted clothing is a way to overcome problems with sensory processing. The extra pressure has all sorts of benefits, from increased ability to focus to stress relief.
Weighted blankets can even be a useful tool that helps autistic children and adults get to sleep easier.
Weighted clothing options like our Napigan have grown in popularity as a therapeutic tool for autistic people over the years. They can help with sensory input issues related to the disorder and may also serve as a stress relief tool.
Some people may get the best result by only using weighted clothing during high-stress situations as the effects can wear off through overuse. But others may just want to keep this cozy cardigan on all day long for extended comfort
Find out what works for you and enjoy the mood boost.