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Temple Grandin’s Squeeze Machine and Using Deep Touch Pressure

temple grandin's squeeze machine

Temple Grandin is a hero in the autism world. Her research, advocacy, and influence have shaped how we treat and talk about autism and sensory issues. Sometimes forgotten though is the incredible impact of her inventions. Temple Grandin’s Squeeze Machine or, Hug Machine, played a huge role in defining what we know about the benefits of deep pressure and compression for people with autismand sensory issues.

In this post, we’ll talk about why Temple Grandin’s Squeeze Machine made such an impact and how you can apply its science in your own child’s routine.

When Did Grandin Invent the Squeeze Machine? And, Why?

From an early age, Temple Grandin struggled with sensory sensitivity. Like a lot of our kiddos with autism, Grandin struggled with being touched. She had 9 out of the 15 symptoms on the Ayres Checklist for Tactile Defensiveness.

Grandin’s interests drove her towards animal science, with a specific specialty in livestock. 

In her work, she noticed that animals relaxed when they experienced deep touch pressure. 

If the animal chutes were used properly, they could apply deep touch pressure to animals prior to going to slaughter, calming them down in what is otherwise a very stressful moment.

This gave Grandin an idea.

Despite the overwhelming feeling that came with being touched, Grandin craved tight hugs and deep touch pressure. Could she give herself the same deep touch pressure that was proving so beneficial for her livestock? 

To satisfy her cravings for deep touch pressure and quell her anxiety, Grandin invented a machine at age 18 in 1965. 

This became what we know of as the Squeeze Machine, or Hug Machine. To begin with, Grandin would use the Squeeze Machine for 15 minutes and found that it would reduce her anxiety for up to an hour. Eventually she was able to determine the correct pressure to allow her to use the Squeeze Machine for up to an hour and a half.

The Squeeze Machine in Day to Day Life

Temple Grandin’s Squeeze Machine looks interesting to say the least. Let’s remember that it was inspired by chutes designed for livestock headed for slaughter. But, don’t let its looks deter you from its benefits.

You can actually buy a Hug Machine from a number of retailers. Also called the Hug Machine, modern iterations of it look true to what Grandin originally invented. A Squeeze Machine comes with a hefty price tag though, not to mention that it will take up all of the space in your living room.

If an authentic Squeeze Machine isn’t in the cards, how can you still get the benefits of deep touch pressure?

Deep Touch Pressure: How to Make Anything a “Squeeze Machine”

Luckily, there are A LOT of ways to give your child deep touch pressure without having to invest in a Squeeze Machine. Think about how you can turn everyday objects and experiences into Squeeze Machines. Here are some great things you can use to give your child deep touch pressure:

  • Squishing between couch cushions
  • Tight bear hugs
  • Compression clothing
  • Weighted blankets
  • Use a foam roller to “roll over” your child
  • Wrapping up in a blanket like a burrito
  • Using weighted products
  • Doing heavy work like pushing and pulling

Perfect! Deep touch pressure all day every day, right?!

No! When she first started using her Squeeze Machine, Temple Grandin couldn’t tolerate the deep touch pressure for more than a few minutes at a time.

It’s really important to let your child adjust to it slowly and at their own pace. While it can be relaxing, deep touch pressure can be really overwhelming at first.

Your child’s body will need time to acclimate. Start with a few minutes, or even a few seconds, of deep touch pressure. As your child gets used to it, you can increase the time.

Why does deep touch pressure take so long to get used to?

Some kids may not have any trouble adjusting to deep touch pressure. Our sensory seekers are probably already crashing into walls, sliding under couch cushions, and doing whatever they can to get that pressure their body needs. To them, deep touch pressure instinctively feels good to them. Our tactile defensive kiddos are a different story though.

When she invented the Squeeze Machine, Temple Grandin had tactile defensiveness. This means that any touch would overwhelm her sensory system and send her into a fight or flight state. Instead of craving touch like our sensory seekers, her body repelled touch and treated it as a threat.

For our kiddos with tactile defensiveness, at first, deep touch pressure sets off alarm bells in their bodies and can be so overwhelming that it becomes painful. If a light touch can set them into a panic, imagine what happens with a bear hug. Overtime, that bear hug is actually preferable to the light touch, but it takes time to get to that point.

Why does touch make our kiddos panic?

A Hug Machine. That sounds so nice, doesn’t it? Well, it can be a bit stressful for our kiddos with sensory challenges.

We have two states: “rest and digest” and “fight or flight.” Our kiddos with tactile defensiveness are much more prone to entering the “fight or flight” stage when they are touched. While most of us would simply turn around when someone tapped on our shoulder, a kiddo with tactile defensiveness may go into full “fight or flight” mode and have a meltdown.

This is why we say that kiddos that react this way are tactile defensive or have tactile sensitivities. 

Basically, their bodies are more sensitive to touch and are more likely to go into a defensive state when they are touched.

When our bodies and sensory systems are relaxed, we’re in the “rest and digest” state. This is a great state to be in, as it means that we’re relaxed and not threatened by anything in our environment. Deep touch pressure is actually a signal to the body to leave the “fight or flight” state and enter “rest and digest.” That’s why it is so important for our kiddos who can be so easier put into a “fight or flight” state by touch.

If it’s so overwhelming, why should we give our kids deep touch pressure in the first place?

While deep touch pressure is overwhelming at first, once your kiddo adjusts, it becomes very relaxing and beneficial. Think about the first time you went to the gym. 

If you’re like most of us, you were sore, nervous, could only do a few exercises before getting winded, and hated every minute of it. Overtime, you started to dread the gym less. You could do more exercises, felt yourself getting stronger, and actually discovered that the gym is a great part of your routine.

Think of deep touch pressure as though it’s a gym routine. Start your kiddo off with small sessions. As they grow “stronger” and become more accustomed to the feeling, increase the duration or the pressure.  

But, don’t do ANYTHING without talking to your occupational therapist first.

You’ve probably heard about the Wilbarger Brushing Protocol and seen some deep touch techniques and are eager to jump in. It’s really important that you don’t and you strategize with your occupational therapist first.

Key Takeaways from Temple Grandin’s Squeeze Machine

Temple Grandin’s Squeeze Machine was instrumental in laying the foundation for what we now know about the benefits of deep touch pressure. She had a problem, so she solved it! That solution is now helping a countless number of kids that struggle with tactile defensiveness. While we could write pages and pages about how the Squeeze Machine has shaped research around deep touch pressure, autism, and tactile defensiveness (other people already have), here are some key facts to take away.

  • For our kids with tactile sensitivities, touch can set off alarm bells in their bodies. Deep touch pressure helps calm down their sensory systems so that they can leave the “fight or flight” stage and enter the “rest and digest” stage.
  • It takes time to get used to deep touch pressure. Start slow and increase the pressure and duration as your child adjusts.
  • Deep touch pressure has long term benefits, which is why it’s important to make a routine of it.
  • Anything can be used for deep touch pressure like couch cushions, hugs, and weighted blankets.

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Diana Fitts is a certified and licensed Occupational Therapist who specializes in sensory processing disorders and autism. Check out my About page to read my story and get a free therapy journal page to record your kiddo’s sessions!

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