200 schools across Germany have introduced the use of sand-filled vests to make kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) easier to manage in the classroom, The Guardian reports.
The vests weigh between 1.2 and six kilograms (2.7 – 13Ib), and have received criticism from parents and psychiatrists alike. Some have likened the vests to straitjackets in psychiatric hospitals, worried that this garment may cause kids with ADHD to be ostracised.
These heavy vests are designed to keep hyperactive children in their seats and make them calmer in class. They cost between €140 and €170 (£124 – £150), and have been praised by advocates who say kids with ADHD are much less unruly when wearing sand vests.
"Children love to wear the vests and no one is forced into wearing one against their will," Gerhild de Wall, head of the inclusion unit at the Grumbrechtstrasse school in the Harburg district of Hamburg and sand vest supporter, told The Guardian.
"The vests help them to have a better sense of themselves, and that, in turn, helps them to concentrate," she continued.
Gerhild also said the vests should never be worn for more than 30 minutes at a time and claimed that the weight is distributed evenly over kids' upper bodies, so the heavy vests are not a problem in that regard.
Schools that use the controversial vests prefer this method because it is, they believe, gentler and less complex than using drugs such as Ritalin to curb hyperactivity.
Michael Schulte-Markwort, director at the Child and Youth Psychiatry University Clinic in the north-western Hamburg district of Eppendorf, disagreed, telling German newspaper Die Tageszeitung that the vests are 'ethically questionable'. He also said the vests may be misused as a one-size-fits-all remedy to any attention deficit disorders.
Indeed, the diagnosis of such disorders is on the rise in Germany and elsewhere. Prevalence aside, many educators are not convinced that sand vests are the way to address ADHD.
"This is an unusual method, whose application I can only view with a great deal of criticism. Neither are there any verified findings or studies about their effectiveness," Yvonne Gebauer, schools minister for the western state of North Rhine Westphalia, told Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung. She says that she does not support the use of the vests in her region.
Beluga Healthcare, the main manufacturers of the sand vests, issued a statement in response to the controversy over the vests' use:
"We don’t want the vests to be viewed as a magic solution to be deployed in every case of concentration disorder. Not every restless child needs a sand vest. Children need to wear them voluntarily and it’s necessary to have an informed diagnosis from an occupational therapist or a paediatrician."
They also admitted that no study has been done on the long-term effectiveness of the jackets.
What do you think of these sand vests, mums?