Caleb has always sought out different sensory items as he was developing. If we happened to be at a park, instead of playing like his other peers he would sit down on the grass and spend time rubbing his hands across its blades. For quite some time we thought it was odd. We would be in wonder at what he would do next. Once he grew tired of the grass, he would go to the nearest tree and just rub his hands up and down across the bark. When we left the park each time he was much calmer and more peaceful than when we had arrived. Caleb had been a hyperactive child since birth (to the extreme of needing Ritalin at two and half in an effort to ensure his personal safety).
Sensory issues were one of the many things my husband and I discussed as we sat across the table at his annual IEP meeting (to determine what services were needed). The team agreed that a trial period of a weighted vest would be appropriate. The trial period would include Caleb wearing a vest with built in weights. It is been long established that deep pressure helps with “reorganizing sensory stimuli” in autistic individuals as well as those with a sensory disorder. The rule of thumb in using the vest is 20 minutes on, 20 minutes off. This should be overseen by a certified occupational therapist. Twenty minutes is not a lot of time. Many times the teacher, or aide will remove the vest. The occupational therapist would return to put it back on after the allotted time off. What they do NOT tell you is the dangers of NOT removing it in the designated time.
One day, I forgot to give Caleb his medication before going to school so I hopped in the car to scoot over to the school and give it to him. I signed in at the school and was directed towards his classroom. When I joined Caleb in the classroom I was distraught by what I saw. My hyperactive, happy go lucky child was lethargic and had deep circles around his eyes. I became suddenly very concerned. I asked the staff what time the vest was put on, and what time it needed to come off. Apparently the teacher and aide became distracted by the flow of the classroom (which had all special needs in attendance). The vest was 25 minutes late coming off. I immediately took the vest off and scooted him to the nurses office.
I was then informed with the dangers of these vests when not removed on time. Apparently, when the vest is not used properly it can cause an extreme drop in the bodies blood pressure. Caleb’s blood pressure was much lower than normal. We sat in the nurses office for quite some time redoing his blood pressure every five minutes to ensure that it would return to normal in a decent amount of time. Then I took him home for the day.
From that point on I refused to allow that method of sensory therapy to be used on my son. In addition to taking Ritalin for hyperactivity my son was also on Clonidine as well to curb his hyperactivity. Clonidine is used in adults to regulate blood pressure. I am sure that the Clonidine in combination with the vest contributed to the event that happened. I was however, informed by my son’s developmental pediatrician that this could happen without the medication.
This event caused me to ponder. What would have happened to my son if I had NOT gone there that day? Would the staff notice before he passed out? Was the staff even informed about the dangers of using these vests and how critical it was to be removed on time? If I was never informed how do I know they were?
I have seen parents with children like my son buy, use, and even make their own weighted vests and blankets. I cringe at the thought of that very day when my sons physical health was endangered by using the very things other parents are striving to use. I was never informed of the dangers and wonder how many out there live under the assumption that these items are good for our children. How many of them have never been informed of their dangers?
I am hoping this post is informative and helps get the word out. There is a real benefit from using these items if used EXACTLY as directed. Please know that if you have a houseful of kids, work from home, or have any other major distraction that could deter you from removing these items on time DO NOT USE THEM! I pray that there are no children harmed by distractions that life so often gives all of us.
I went to using the personal massager that worked better than the vests. For more information on the use of the massagers please refer to my post on sensory therapy. In all things be informed. After that incident I became more informed than the FBI when it comes to therapies used for my child. I hope you will as well.