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Spotlight on Temple Grandin Squeeze Machine

written by: Sandi Johnson • edited by: Linda Richter • updated: 2/16/2011

Temple Grandin is one of the most famous high-functioning autistic persons on the planet. Author, animal scientist and autism advocate, she invented the Temple Grandin squeeze machine in 1965, at the tender age of 18.

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    Who is Temple Grandin?

    Temple Grandin, the mind behind the Temple Grandin Squeeze Machine, is often touted as the most famous person in the world with autism. In 2010, Time Magazine named her as one of the 100 World’s Most Influential People. She is an animal scientist and activist for both livestock and for people with autism. She teaches animal sciences and psychology at Colorado State University. Grandin has written books such as Thinking in Pictures, The Way I See It and Emergence: Labeled Autistic that provide insight into the mind of a person with autism spectrum challenges.

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    What is a Squeeze Machine?

    Temple Grandin Squeeze Machine In 1965, at the age of 18, Temple Grandin designed and built a machine to provide herself with deep touch pressure to relieve anxiety and other problems associated with tactile defensiveness. As she reports the machine’s development, the idea came after visiting a relative’s ranch. Grandin observed how cattle forced through squeeze chutes almost instantly calmed and settled before handlers administered inoculations. The chutes provided all-over pressure against most of the cow’s body, resulting in a calmer animal for handlers to manage.

    Grandin set out to design and build something similar for herself. As a child and continuing into adulthood, she experienced a reflexive shrinking from physical contact. When a person touched her, she instinctively pulled away, unable to handle the sensory overload that resulted. These light touches were uncomfortable to such an extent that she avoided being touched at all. However, deep touch pressure, like the kind she observed with the cattle on her relative’s ranch, did not cause the same anxiety. Rather, it had the opposite effect, providing comfort and calm.

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    Benefits of the Temple Grandin Squeeze Machine

    Studies of both children and adults with autism, such as the adult study published in the British Journal of Learning Disabilities in 2007, show a dramatic benefit to deep touch pressure therapy. In the study published in 2007, an adult male with autism gained the same benefits reported in children with the application of deep touch pressure techniques. The researcher reported less physical restraints were required when the patient became anxious, as well as reduced dependence on medication for control of anxiety.

    Occupational therapists have long used therapeutic tools such as weighted vests, wrapping a child in a play mat or heavy blanket, and similar techniques to ease anxiety in children with autism. The Temple Grandin Squeeze Machine provides similar deep touch pressure over a larger area of the body than weighted clothing, mats or blankets. Furthermore, the patient controls how much pressure the machine exerts, allowing them to customize the amount of pressure most beneficial for their situation.

    In her published paper, Calming Effects of Deep Touch Pressure in Patients with Autistic Disorder, College Students, and Animals, Temple Grandin admits little formal research regarding the clinical use of the squeeze machine exists. However, psychologists and occupational therapists at the Center for Neurodevelopmental Studies in Arizona and Michael Reese Hospital in Illinois, as well as other locations, use machines based on Grandin’s design. All report children with developmental disorders, ADHD, and learning disabilities greatly benefit from using the machine.

    These users report children have fewer tantrums, restrictive and self-stimulating behaviors are reduced, and the children report enjoying the machine. While no scientific clinical studies have been conducted to date, the use of deep touch pressure in other clinical settings, combined with reports of squeeze machine users supports anecdotal information as to the machine’s usefulness. Parents of children on the spectrum and adults living with autism-related challenges can easily build a machine themselves with plans Grandin makes freely available online.

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    References and Resources

    Eric.gov, “The Clinical Application of Deep Touch Pressure…” http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/search/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=EJ779080&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=EJ779080

    Temple Grandin, “Calming Effects of Deep Touch Pressure…” http://www.grandin.com/inc/squeeze.html

    Time Magazine, 100 Most Influential People of 2010, http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1984685_1984949_1985222,00.html

    Image courtesy Wikimedia license http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Temple_Grandin_at_TED.jpg