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FIU Study Finds Weighted Vests, Stability Balls Not Helpful For Students With ADHD

Emily Michot
Miami Herald
The Center for Children and Families at FIU runs a summer program for children with ADHD (shown here). A researcher there recently performed a study testing the effectiveness of weighted vests and stability balls.

A recently published Florida International University study found that weighted vests and stability balls are not effective in helping elementary-aged children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder focus in class, although teachers and school-based occupational therapists commonly use these tools.

The scientific reasoning behind why these devices were believed to be effective makes sense: The vests, which contain sandbags collectively weighing about 5 to 10 percent of the wearer’s body weight, are believed to help calm children's central nervous systems and therefore help them concentrate. And stability balls, which can be actual balls used in place of chairs or cushions that are placed on top of chairs, allow children to expend excess energy by moving around.

But researchers at FIU's Center for Children and Families were discouraged by a lack of evidence demonstrating that they work for kids with ADHD. So they studied the question — and found the vests and balls had no positive or negative effect on students’ ability to follow classroom rules or complete their classwork accurately.

The experiment was conducted with 64 student participants during a summer program for kids with ADHD and related disabilities. The results were recently published in the scientific journal School Psychology Review.

The lead researcher, psychology doctoral student Fiona Macphee, said she hopes her findings will influence teachers and occupational therapists to choose other strategies to manage the behavior of students with ADHD.

“We have lots and lots of evidence for things that do help them,” Macphee said — for example: offering students rewards if they follow classroom rules and withholding those rewards if they don’t.

Setting specific goals is also helpful, she said.

“A child with ADHD might have trouble interrupting. So rather than raising their hand and waiting to speak, [they] might call out,” she said. “So that's something we would target and set a goal: … If they interrupt less than four times during math class today, they get ... a sticker.”

Read her study here.

Jessica Bakeman is Director of Enterprise Journalism at WLRN News, and she is the former senior news editor and education reporter. Her 2021 project "Class of COVID-19" won a national Edward R. Murrow Award.
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