Inexpensive Deep Pressure Vest for Proprioception Seekers
Proprioception is the word used to describe the internal sensation of body awareness. In our muscles we have receptors that let us know how much force a muscle should and does use to effectively complete a movement. An example of this is felt when cutting a piece of paper. Without much effort at all, our arms judge the resistance of the piece of paper and adjust our force so as to be able to advance the scissors without ripping the paper. In our joints we have receptors that let us know the position of the joint. An example of this can be felt when I close my eyes and move a limb. Without using my eyes, I am able to feel where my arms and legs are and whether or not my knee is bent or not.
Some children who experience challenges with registering proprioceptive input benefit from the use of a deep pressure vest. A deep pressure vest is usually made of a stretchy material that is snug, that squeezes around the trunk (chest and tummy) and over the shoulders, giving extra information about joint and body position. It is somewhat the equivalent of a big hug.
A deep pressure vest is often used with a sensory seeking child during times when a child needs to be able to sit and attend- maybe during story time at night or during circle time at preschool. It often helps to decrease proprioceptive seeking behaviors (flapping, rocking, crashing) and improve ability to participate.
A deep pressure vest can also be helpful in helping a sensory sensitive/avoidant child manage a stressful situation. For children with sensory integration challenges, one challenge on its own (a loud room, bright sun, itchy clothing, lots of moving around in an unfamiliar setting, lack of internal awareness) can be manageable but when experiences are combined together they can become confusing and uncomfortable and can cause meltdowns, tantrums and shutdowns. For kids affected in this way, a deep pressure vest can help make stressful situations more tolerable.
There are many store bought deep pressure vests available for purchase online. They range in price from 60-300 dollars. I find the prices challenging because you never can tell with a sensory child what strategy will be effective for him or her and for how long it will be effective for. Personally I have found this vest to be helpful with most children I have tried it with, though the success has varied overtime. Point being, I like the idea of being able to try it first without the upfront cost. Later, if your child uses the pressure vest, then by all means, upgrade to one that will grow with him or her, is more stylish and has more individualization.
A few years ago a colleague shared with me an article about making inexpensive pressure vests for children. The article titled “Making Inexpensive Deep Pressure Vests for Children” was written by Susan Wagler and published in OT Practice, August 9, 2010. The total cost of this homemade pressure vest is $2.50. It will be slightly higher if you need to buy Velcro as well. I have linked the article so you can see the directions, it is very simple.
To purchase the waist belt, I went to the Daytona Flea Market, just slightly west of I95 on 17/92 in Daytona Beach. One of the Asian owned markets there sells a neoprene waist support. They cost $2.50 each. You may wish to purchase two if your child is over 3 or 4 years old.
Basically you cut off the end part of the belt, then divide the end part into two shoulder straps. The original velcro secures the trunk part of the vest. You then sew a piece of velcro onto the end of the shoulder strap and sew the other end of the shoulder strap onto the belt. I orient the vest with the openings in the back so it is less likely to bother the wearer.
Here is the link to the article:
And here are a few pictures of one of my finished products. (below)
All in all (I have a sewing machine ready to go) the vest took about 5 minutes to make. Becasue the neoprene is rubbery and doesnt like to slide over the surface of the sewing machine, I placed a piece of paper under the rubber, making it able to slide easily. At the end I just rip the paper off.
Once the vest is on, make sure to smooth out any lumps that might occur on the clothing beneath the vest. Be with the child to observe whether or not the vest seems to help and to observe the fit (snug but they still need to be able to breathe comfortably). The child will let you know if s/he likes it or not. Also although I have heard of some kids wanting to wear it all the time, it is a more effective intervention if a wearing schedule is used. Keep the vest on for half an hour during time when the child needs good attention or stress reduction. If the vest is worn for two long, the body will adapt to the sensation and its effectiveness will decrease. I am excited to be able to share this new vest with my client and her school today! Happy Monday