Occupational therapy (OT) tools like weighted vests and stability balls are often prescribed in the classroom for children with ADHD. In theory, these tools help children stay more focused, be more productive, and have fewer behavior problems. But are they effective for kids with ADHD?
While these OT tools are widely used, with school districts spending millions of dollars each year on these supplies for kids with ADHD, research examining their effectiveness has not been conducted until recently. Researchers at Florida International University sought to address this gap by conducting the first controlled study examining the use of weighted vests and stability balls for kids with ADHD.1
The study was conducted in a summer program specifically designed for children with ADHD, which included daily classroom sessions (as well as other activities throughout the day). In the study, 64 children between the ages of 7-12 were randomly assigned to receive stability balls and weighted vests at 60-minute intervals throughout the week during the classroom sessions. All of the children also received behavioral interventions (like a daily report card), and half of the children also received ADHD medication.
Researchers measured the effects of weighted vests and stability balls on academic productivity and classroom behavior. The results showed that the weighted vests and stability balls had no impact on either classroom behavior or academic productivity for kids with ADHD. In contrast (and as expected), the ADHD medication and behavioral interventions did improve both classroom behavior and academic productivity.
So, what does this mean for your child? Since this is the first study examining the effectiveness of these occupational therapy devices for kids with ADHD, and the number of participants in the study was small, more research is needed before we can draw any firm conclusions. However, the study does suggest that parents and teachers should be cautious about relying too heavily on these tools for kids with ADHD.
If you and your child’s school decide to use occupational therapy devices in the classroom, make sure that you:
1 Macphee et al, (2019) The Effect of Weighted Vests and Stability Balls With and Without Psychostimulant Medication on Classroom Outcomes for Children with ADHD. School Psychology Review.
Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.
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