The squeeze machine is known by many names, e.g., hug machine or hug box. I prefer calling it the squeeze machine to prevent confusion whenever I ask one of our children for a hug. The device was invented by Temple Grandin sometime around the 1960’s. We have one within a school setting where kids within the autistic spectrum learn about life skills. I have recommended its use, along with a therapy swing, in areas that may challenge our patients, e.g. immediately adjacent to our dental clinic. In previous blogs I have written about sensory problems in autism as well as their possible causation (https://corticalchauvinism.wordpress.com/2013/01/29/what-causes-the-mayor-symptoms-of-autism-part-1/). It seems that using pressure may help kids desensitize themselves, and gain better knowledge about the position of their body in space. There is very little in terms of research on the squeeze machine. One of the more knowledgeable individuals that I know in this regard is Margaret Creedon. I have invited her to provide a few words in this blog about the squeeze machine.
The Squeeze Machine by Margaret P. Creedon, Ph.D.
Margaret Creedon during a recent symposium at the Academy at St. Andrews. Dr. Creedon is a Fellow in the American Academy of Clinical Psychology; member of the Panel of Professional Advisors for the Autism Society of America; former attending staff at the Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago and director of the school and research at the Developmental Institute; early intervention specialist; and consultant to families and schools nationally and internationally, the Department of Education in Ireland. Currently she is a consultant for the Autism Research Institute and adjunct teaching faculty, DePaul University.
The Squeeze Machine, also known as Temple Grandin’s Hug Machine is a device a person uses to help themselves moderate or increase their tolerance to stresses and reduce defensiveness. Some individuals with sensory processing and autism spectrum disorders can be overwhelmed with anxiety or panic; some can seek out intense contact experiences that can too be problematic. Applying deeper but safe pressure in slowly applied units for a 5 to 15 minute period can be soothing with extended calming or focusing for extended periods. Results also depend on environmental circumstances as well as the person’s history in using the equipment. Developmentally, surges in hormones or growth changes in body style and image can also present internal sensations that’s adds to managing everyday tasks.
The squeeze machine as developed by Temple Grandin has two hinged plywood sideboards covered by padding. When the sideboards close on a subject inside the machine he/she will feel deep pressure. The user is in control of ho much and how long the pressure is applied. The machine is recommended for children 5 ears of age and older and for subjects who weigh less than 250 pounds.
While its appearance may at first seem imposing or confining, it is a stable personal space that is very safe to use and is at each person’s own direction. The application of firm and positive contact that is consistent has the advantage over some other techniques involving some assistance with mats, struggling with materials or even others, etc. While some elements of anyone’s day can be unpredictable or demanding, the increased challenges of some touch or the push-pull of social contact can not only contribute to stress responses but impact social and learning activities. Studies completed at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago demonstrated changes in improved fine motor task competency, reduction of extraneous or repetitive movements, decreased direct physical contact with negative effects and some increase in using words and accepting social touch.
The most outstanding element of using this particular device is that the individual controls the rhythm and pacing of the contact at each session related to their state on entry. Being able to exercise control on one’s environment to facilitate one ‘s own internal state provides a self learning and esteem experience when one would otherwise feel out of control if not more vulnerable.