The Fitness and Nutrition Expo at IDEA World exposed me to many new brands paving the way with cutting-edge products and services. I’m less actively involved in the trenches of personal training clients these days, although I’m still involved in the fitness space. Moreover, fitness and nutrition stuff will likely always be part of my lifeblood, so enormous expos with so many interesting venders and exhibits will probably always be alluring to me.
One interesting product I was introduced to was a blended nylon/Spandex lightly-weighted vest developed by Challenge Weighted Workout Wear. It’s an innovative product because it straddles the line between a weighted vest and a compression vest. I was immediately drawn to it because of these qualities for an autism application. It is marketed to women as a comfortable weighted vest for exercise, but at only four pounds of included weight, it’s significantly lighter than most weighted vests. But what really set it apart for me was the comfort and flexibility of the weight packs, which is a patented design the company has termed Weight Thins. Instead of being standard chunks of iron or other metal, the weights are thin, flexible sheets of what looks like a lattice of small ball bearings. They lie flat and move more harmoniously with the body as a merged unit, rather than jut out and impede motion.
I put on the vest at the expo and immediately felt its application in the autism/sensory space. Sensory processing issues (which are very common in the autistic population) greatly increase anxiety because the brain does not properly interpret and integrate sensory information. Sounds may bothersome, for example, because the brain doesn’t modulate the signal well, lights can be terribly distracting, many tactile things like clothing tags and certain food textures are uncomfortable to the point of being intolerable. Another issue is with the often overlooked sense of proprioception, or the awareness of one’s body parts in space. Compression and weighted blankets help provide feedback to the joints and body in general to give the brain more input about where it is and how it feels. This makes compression and weighted elements calming for people with sensory processing disorder and helps us feel better. It is common for kids and adults on the spectrum to sleep under a weighted blanket and find that it improves sleep quality.
The vest, which I’ve recently been testing out, is made of a nylon/Spandex blend and designed to provide some compression and keep the weights close to the body instead of flapping around as you move. It has a nice inner waist band that velcros firmly around the lower abdomen underneath the zippered outer layer. It helps keep the vest secured in place. Unfortunately, there are limited sizes available still, so women’s small is the smallest. Because I’m child-sized, it’s too big for me and not as snug or form-fitting as intended unless I wear it over bulkier layers. Now that it’s late fall and temperatures are relatively freezing to me, this is no problem! However, it does mean that smaller women and most kids (unless they are at least a women’s small) would be too small to fully reap the benefits of the design. Smaller children could certainly still wear it, but it will not provide the gentle “hug” that is especially desirable for sensory needs. It also may shift or rotate a bit around the torso during movement. Over a sweatshirt or fleece jacket, the vest fits well and I do enjoy the light compression it offers, which, coupled with the four single-pound weight packs, provides the proprioceptive input my body craves. I don’t really notice the weight, and that’s a good thing. The packs are distributed evenly around the trunk and as mentioned, lie nice and flat against the body, move with me, and don’t jostle around. In fact, one of the coolest design features is that the vest has an array of pockets on the back so that wearer can select where he or she wants to add a weight sheet. While the vest comes with four pounds of weight (16 Thins), you can order more Weight Thins and stuff them in the pockets as you so choose. I like the fact that the weights are spread in a thin layer down my whole back, giving my brain the positional signals it needs without my body feeling encumbered or taxed—perfect.
The most significant benefit I’ve noticed while wearing the vest is that I fall less. Anyone who reads my blog regularly or is in my close circle knows that I’m constantly falling, which not only is embarrassing, but very risky and painful. I’m constantly getting hurt. Any tools or interventions that help prevent falls and reduce my clumsiness are strategies worth implementing. As this one seems to be a particularly potent fall risk-reducer, it warrants a place as a mainstay in my wardrobe, particularly while hiking or engaging in my more “risky” behavior from a balance standpoint. I also notice it makes me feel calmer and more composed, especially while driving or in sensory overwhelming environments like large stores. I’m a girl prone to routine so I think this vest deserves an indispensable place in my daily endeavors.
Although I’m still in my early days of wearing the vest, I’m optimistic that it will continue to offer health, safety, and anxiety-reducing benefits—a valuable trifecta! It certainly earns my stamp of approval and place on my list of recommended “tool bag” of implements for autistic adolescents or adults or those with SPD. I’ll probably update my findings and thoughts as I get more experience with it and give it a whirl in different situations and activities. If you try it or are interested and have questions, definitely feel free to reach out to me personally via the feedback or comments options on the blog or through my email.
I put a video of the Weight Thin under the picture. It shows me flexing it. I just think the technology they came up with is super innovative.