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Inflatable therapy vest may help children with neurodevelopmental disorders

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Research conducted as part of a Mitacs Accelerate internship is helping show that the inflatable Snug Vest can help treat autism spectrum disorders.

Deep pressure therapy, using devices such as weighted vests, is widely used to treat autism spectrum disorders, yet little scientific evidence exists to back up its effectiveness. Research conducted as part of a Mitacs Accelerate internship is providing that evidence, helping boost a young company’s product sales and development in the process.

University of Victoria doctoral student Kayla Ten Eycke, whose internship was arranged with the help of the NeuroDevNet NCE, worked with Vancouver-based startup Squeezease to study the effects of the company’s prototype inflatable vest for children. The Snug Vest is designed to apply air pressure to the torso, and Ten Eycke’s research involved testing blood pressure, heart rate, salivary cortisol, and various psychological and behavioural measures to gauge its impact.

“We found a significant interaction between treatment and how parents assessed their children’s ability to pay attention,” says Ten Eycke. Wearing the vest, and when the children wore the vest – before, directly after, and two hours after taking it off – affected how parents rated their children’s attention. “We also found that wearing the vest significantly reduced salivary cortisol levels,” says Ten Eycke.” Elevated cortisol levels indicate increased stress.

Attention, stress and problem behaviour are typical challenges facing children on the autism spectrum and their parents. Ten Eycke has submitted a paper on her study to the Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy, and is conducting further research to corroborate and extend her findings.

Further research is needed, but Squeezeease founder Lisa Fraser says the pilot has already helped her business development. Potential investors and government funders took her company more seriously because of the research, and Fraser adds that she learned some important things about how her product was used and experienced during the research.

“Beyond the physiological and cognitive measures tested,” she says, “I could observe how the kids interacted with the product, and determine proper product usability to see if the children and Kayla used the device properly, if the kids were comfortable, and if they could pump up the vest for themselves. All of these observations provided me useful feedback to improve the function and design of the product.”

Fraser expects to launch sales of the Snug Vest in December.

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