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By Gina Brady, Fraser Sensory Supports and Training Manager • weighted clothing, compression clothing, sensory processing differences, sensory support, sensory disorder, sensory processing disorder, autism supports, sensory sensitivities, compression clothing autism, weighted clothing autism, weighted clothing sensory, compression clothing sensory, deep pressure input clothing, deep pressure input weighted clothing, deep pressure input compression clothing • March 14, 2024

Many people are familiar with the calming effects of the deep pressure input from weighted blankets, lap pads or neck wraps. However, these tools can limit movement and can be too bulky or heavy to pack. So, these sensory items don’t make sense for certain situations, like visiting the zoo, attending a dance or spending time at the amusement park.

But there is a way to feel deep-pressure proprioceptive input while maintaining mobility: with weighted and compression clothing.

What are the benefits of weighted and compression clothing?

Both weighted and compression clothing apply deep pressure across the body to mimic a firm hug or gentle squeeze. This action activates the rest and digest, or parasympathetic part of the nervous system, which prevents the fight, flight or freeze response in your sympathetic system. This proprioceptive input feels calming and grounding to the wearer and can improve focus, attention and reduce feelings of anxiety. These clothing options benefit individuals with sensory differences, anxiety and other conditions that cause heightened arousal levels.

The deep pressure input from weighted and compression clothing also signals a heightened body awareness and coordination of movement to the brain. The increased awareness can lead to improved coordination.

Weighted Clothing

Weighted clothing, such as vests, shirts, or jackets, apply pressure to the body and are usually worn over the top of other clothing. The recommended amount of weight is 5-10% of a person’s body weight. So, a 150-pound person could use anywhere from 7.5 to 15 pounds of weight. Some weighted clothing has removable weighted pouches, so the weight can be adjusted to each individual.

As with other sensory tools or strategies, the longer you use it without taking a break, the more your body becomes used to it. Then, once you stop using it, your body might feel something is “missing.” To prevent this, try to take breaks periodically. You could wear a weighted vest for 30 minutes, followed by a 30-minute break. Or, you could reserve a weighted or compression item for before or after a particularly challenging or stressful activity.

When using weighted items, keep an eye out for fatigue or overheating, and discontinue using a weighted item if you experience either.

Compression Clothing

Compression clothing, including snug-fitting shirts, pants, or socks, applies constant and evenly distributed pressure to the body's muscles and joints. It provides a calming effect, similar to weighted clothing. Compression clothing provides a uniform amount of pressure across the entire surface of the body underneath the fabric. In contrast, weighted clothing provides downward pressure, depending on how the weights are distributed.

Compression clothing can also help with sensitivity to fabric textures. For example, a lycra-based long-sleeve shirt can be worn under a polyester uniform shirt, to prevent the irritating fabric from touching the person’s skin. Deep pressure effects will wear off once the body is used to the input — after about 20 minutes — but the compression clothing will continue to provide a barrier to an irritating fabric. Compression clothing can provide support to muscles and joints, which helps with posture. This can benefit children who struggle with core stability and need assistance to maintain proper posture.

Because compression clothing sits right against the skin, choose a very comfortable fabric. Make sure it allows for temperature regulation to avoid under- or overheating.

Consult a healthcare expert

With weighted and compression clothing, the effectiveness varies from person to person. You should consider consulting a healthcare professional or occupational therapist before using such clothing, especially for individuals with specific medical or sensory needs.

Learn more at the Fraser Festival, presented by Central Roofing Company

If you're looking to learn more about weighted and compression items, consider visiting the Fraser Festival, presented by Central Roofing Company, on Sat., April 6, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Saint Paul RiverCentre in downtown St. Paul. The fun, sensory-friendly community event is open to all.

At the festival, Fraser Sensory Support Volunteers will be there to support people with sensory tools, including weighted and compression clothing, as well as other sensory tools. There will also be a calming space, pre-visit story, therapy animals and other supports for people with sensory processing difficulties.