Temple’s Hug Machine
Dr Temple Grandin, America’s foremost animal behaviour expert – and Americas most well-known autistic woman was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1947. During childhood she displayed classic early symptoms of autism, sensitive to touch, temper tantrums, and was more silent than most other children. Back then, autistic children were often incorrectly diagnosed as developmentally disabled, and in Temple’s case, the expert opinion was that she was brain-damaged and should be confined to an institution to receive long-term care. As she grew it became clear that she had a unique way of seeing the world that allowed her to develop not just a photographic memory but a memory that could store and search photo-realistic pictures in her mind instantly. Temple describes her mind as her very own Google Images. Like with many people with ASD Temple struggled to make friends and build simple social skills but she found her calling in graduate school, researching animal behaviour and working in the feed yards of the livestock industry as part of her postgraduate research. She began to sense that – like her – cattle and other animals relied on visual clues to navigate their world and with her unique perspective, Temple started to write highly rated articles for livestock magazines.
She developed new and humane ways for farmers to move and contain cattle and through developing these ideas she invented the hug machine, also known as a hug box, a squeeze machine, or a squeeze box. This device is a deep-pressure contraption designed to calm hypersensitive persons, usually individuals with ASD in a therapeutic, stress-relieving way. The hug machine consists of two hinged side-boards, each four by three feet (120 cm by 90 cm) with thick soft padding, which form a V-shape, with a complex control box at one end and heavy-duty tubes leading to an air compressor. The user lies or squats, between the side-boards, for as long or short a period as desired. Using pressure exerted by the air compressor and controlled by the user, the side-boards apply deep pressure stimulation evenly across the lateral parts of the body. Autism and autism-spectrum disorders have profound effects upon both social interactions and sensitivity to sensory stimulation often making it uncomfortable or impractical for them to turn to other human beings for comfort.
Temple solved this with her hug machine so both she and others could turn to it for sensory relief, when needed or simply desired. Its a hug without the intensity of another person being involved. A compression vest works in much the same way and can have profoundly calming effects on the wearers body and mind. There are many simple devices available that can reduce anxiety and stress for people with autism and the way they work can vary. But one thing they all seem to have in common is that they provide sensory relief in a none intrusive way.
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