A vest capable of giving a "portable hug" could soon lessen anxiety among children with autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD).
Currently under development at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the "deep pressure" vest can also be used for adults with mental illness, ScienceDaily reported.
Developed by Brian Mullen at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the vest delivers a "portable hug" called deep pressure touch stimulation (DPTS).
"People with developmental disorders and mental illness are often overwhelmed in everyday environments such as school and the workplace, and solutions available to families and mental health professionals are limited," says Mullen.
According to Mullen, the vest's hug "is an alternative therapy that can safely and discreetly provide the treatment they need to function in mainstream society".
To market the vest, Mullen has created a concept business called Therapeutic Systems, which recently won the $50,000 grand prize in the UMass Amherst Technology Innovation Challenge, a competition for the best entrepreneurial technology business plan produced by students, recent alumni and faculty advisors on campus.
Occupational therapists working with children suffering from autism, ADHD and sensory processing disorders have observed that DPTS can increase attention to tasks and reduce anxiety and harmful behaviours by providing different sensory stimuli.
DPTS is also part of a growing trend to improve the lives of adults with mental illness by using touch, sound and aroma to influence alertness, attention and their ability to adapt to their surroundings.
Eight clinical studies of the effectiveness and safety of existing weighted blankets and vests that deliver DPTS were conducted by Mullen and his advisor Sundar Krishnamurty, a professor of mechanical and industrial engineering at UMass Amherst.
Mullen used that data to design a prototype system for applying DPTS that can be inserted into any commercial vest or jacket with a lining.
Initial results of a study with students at UMass Amherst, who did not have autism or ADHD, showed that participants preferred Mullen's prototype vest, which applies pressure that feels like a firm hug or swaddling, over the current gold standard weighted vest.