A hug machine, or squeeze box, is a deep-pressure device designed to calm hypersensitive persons, usually individuals with autism spectrum disorders. The therapeutic, stress-relieving device was invented by professor of animal science Temple Grandin in 1965.
Autism and autism-spectrum disorders have profound effects upon both social interactions and sensitivity to sensory stimulation in persons with such conditions, often making it uncomfortable or impractical for them to turn to other human beings for comfort. Grandin solved this by designing the hug machine so both she and others could turn to it for sensory relief, whenever needed or simply desired.
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.
As a young child, Grandin realized she would seek out deep pressure stimulation, but hugs and being held over-stimulated her. The idea for the hug machine came to her during a visit to her aunt’s Arizona ranch, where she noted the way cattle were inoculated while confined in a squeeze chute, and how some of the cattle immediately calmed down after pressure was administered. She realized that the deep pressure from the chute had a calming effect on the cattle, and she decided that something similar might well settle down her own hypersensitivity.
Grandin’s device did not meet with unmitigated approval at first, as psychologists at her high school sought to confiscate her prototype hug machine. However, her science teacher encouraged her to determine just why it helped resolve her anxiety and sensory issues. Several therapy programs in the United States use hug machines, effectively achieving general calming effects among both children and adults with autism. Until recently, Grandin continued to use her own hug box on a regular basis, to provide herself the deep pressure necessary to relieve symptoms of her anxiety. ‘I concentrate on how gently I can do it,’ she has said. Grandin stated, in an interview in Time magazine published early in 2010, that she no longer uses a hug machine: ‘It broke two years ago, and I never got around to fixing it. I’m into hugging people now.’