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The Snug Vest: A Wearable Medical Device That Looks Cool

Industrial designer Lisa Fraser has long had a passion to help kids with autism, but wasn't sure on the specifics. Then, an idea came to her while studying design at Emily Carr University (Vancouver, BC, Canada). When observing children with autism in the classroom, she noticed some of them would use weighted vests to regulate anxiety. While deep pressure therapy is been shown to be calming for individuals who feel overwhelmed by their environment, saddling children with weights on their shoulders inhibited their movement and was not good for their posture.   

Then she thought: What if we used air to provide pressure instead of weight for deep pressure therapy? Fraser ran the idea by occupational therapists. "Right away, they said it was an awesome idea and asked, 'Why hadn't anyone come up with that before?'" Fraser recounts.


Fraser began work on a design concept for an internally inflating vest that incorporated feedback from children with autism, parents, and therapists. She developed a working prototype for the device, which she dubbed the Bearhug Vest, but did not have an intention to commercialize it.

But then the device began to win a slew of international awards and positive feedback from the autism community, including famed autism advocate Temple Grandin, PhD, who Time has ranked as one of the most influential people in the world. After getting numerous emails from parents and therapists asking how they could get the vest, Fraser decided to bring the product to market in 2011. After refining the product and doing more research, Fraser launched the Snug Vest in early spring of 2013.

The Snug Vest is hand made in batches. Each device is hand-welded and sewn. "There are two components of the product. One is an inflatable bladder and the other is the garment."

"The inflatable component is made up of a really durable polyurethane-coated nylon, and it is coated because it is RF welded together to create an airtight seal." The garment is comprised of various technical fabrics.

The winners of the Medical Design Excellence Awards will be announced in a ceremony held on June 11 in conjunction with MD&M East, June 9-12, 2014 in New York City.

Now the founder and CEO of Squeezease Therapy Inc., her product recently won its second Red Dot Award, competing against products submitted by big-name manufacturers. The device is also a finalist in this year's Medical Design Excellence Awards competition.

A big part of the product's success is that it an effective medical device with a stylish yet discreet design. "I saw a critical need for improvement and wanted to create something to help foster inclusion," she says.

"We even had a kid with autism and his brother was totally neurotypical was jealous of his brother's Snug Vest because it looked cool," Fraser says. "Whereas our competitor products are something kids don't want to put. And parents don't want to see their kids in those because other kids will make fun of them."

The Snug Vest also has the benefit of enabling users to control the therapy themselves. "They don't have to rely on other people. If they are on a bus and if they are having some anxiety, they can control it."

While Fraser is initially targeting children with autism, she expects to branch out to other patient populations. "A wide range of people who have sensory disorders, attention deficit disorders, or problems like post traumatic stress disorder can benefit from it," she says. While the initial focus is on children with autism, the company reports that a variety of patients are using the product. "We do have people with ADHD that buy the vest. We have adults with stress problems who buy the vest," she says. "Since the beginning, we've had six sizes, ranging from three-year-old to a large adult size. We actually sell just as many adult sizes as we do child sizes."

Brian Buntz is the editor-in-chief of MPMN. Follow him on Twitter at @brian_buntz and Google+.

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