Are Weighted Vests and Stability Balls Helpful for Kids with ADHD?

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

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. Request that teachers complete rating scales measuring ADHD symptoms and academic productivity before the devices are introduced and again one or two weeks after the devices have been in use. If you do not see any improvement, then the child should stop using the stability ball and weighted vest. If you do see improvement, have rating scales completed one month later to make sure the improvements are long-lasting.
  2. Consider the stigma that may come with using these tools in the classroom. A child using a stability ball and/or a weighted vest will stand out from their peers, and not usually in a good way. So, consider the social impact that these devices may have on your child before approving their use in the classroom. The benefits of the device need to outweigh the potentially negative social effects in order to truly be useful for your child.
  3. Always use these tools in conjunction with evidence-based interventions for ADHD. Stability balls and weighted vests are not stand-alone interventions for ADHD, and they should never be used as a replacement for evidence-based strategies.

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.


 

ABOUT DR. MARY ROONEY

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.

ABOUT HUNTINGTON

Huntington Learning Center is the tutoring and test prep leader. Its certified tutors provide individualized instruction in reading, phonics, writing, study skills, elementary and middle school math, Algebra through Calculus, Chemistry, and other sciences. It preps for the SAT and ACT, as well as state and standardized exams. Huntington programs develop the skills, confidence, and motivation to help students of all levels succeed and meet the needs of Common Core State Standards. Founded in 1977, Huntington's mission is to give every student the best education possible. Call us today at 1.800.CAN LEARN to discuss how Huntington can help your child. For franchise opportunities please visit www.huntingtonfranchise.com.

This website does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this site is provided for educational purposes only.

Article Topics

Stay in touch and sign up for our newsletter