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29 October 2014

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Temple Grandin's Squeeze Machine

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Temple Grandin's Squeeze Machine

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One of the first links Temple made between animal and autistic behaviour happened when she came across a device called the squeeze chute. Although designed for cattle, she soon realised this piece of equipment could have uses for autistic people like herself.

At the ranch

At the ranch

When Temple was 16, she discovered the 'squeeze chute' at her aunt's ranch.

Video transcript

I got to see the squeeze chute working and all they were doing was just vaccinating the animals. They weren't doing anything painful, they were just giving them their shots.

They would go in and the thing would clamp them on their head and then the squeeze sides would come in and squeeze them, hold them. Some calves got all excited, but other calves just sort of went aah. And they just kinda relaxed. It wasn't all the calves that did that, just some of the calve did that. I thought, oh, I've gotta try that.

And so you actually tought, you made that link, you thought well it makes them relax...

That's right, yeah. I made the link, yeah. That's absolutely right. So the next day I got my aunt to lock me in the squeeze chute and everybody thought that was kinda weird.

So you got in it, and then what happened?

Well, I was in there for about half an hour, and then for about an hour afterwards I was calmer.

Building it at home

Building it at home

Inspired by her experiences on the ranch, Temple built her own human squeeze machine at home.

Video transcript

Well, you're going to see me get in here... my head is in here... When I first get in it squeezes up quite a bit... It's just like the controls on a squeeze chute out in the field.. the same kind of thing.

How often do you use this machine?

About once a week.

When you're particularly stressed?

Usually... I'm away an awful lot so I've not been using is as much as I'd like to.

How long do you stay in it for?

Twenty minutes. A kind of relaxed feeling of being held, helps you to have nicer thoughts.

Did you mean it helps you feel more affection towards people?

Yeah, that's right. As a little kid I wanted to feel the nice feeling of being held but it was just too much overwhelming stimulation.

So this was a... a control.

Why it works

Why it works

Dougal Hare, a psychologist at the University of Manchester, explains why the squeeze machine works.

Video transcript

Although the squeeze machine seems a very strange idea, it is in fact based on sound scientific theory. We know that light pressure touch, say stroking of the skin, excites the sympathetic nervous system, which raises heart rate and raises respiration, whereas deep pressure touch actually lowers heart rate and lowers respiration. And what the squeeze machine is doingl, is producing controlled deep pressure touch, which then has a significant relaxing effect.

When we look back over the past 30 or 40 years, at the clinical literature, it becomes evident that there have been a number of cases described, in which people with autism have been put into restraint, for example in straightjackets - which is obviously not a practice that we would carry out today - but when this was carried out some people with autism responded very positively to being put in a straightjacket. They seemed to become very calm, very relaxed. And more importantly, when they were taken out of the straightjacket or other forms of physical restraint, they acted in such a way as to be put back into the physical restraint, as if they were seeking it in some way.

Now, obviously, we'd never condone putting someone with autism in a straightjacket today, but looking back we can see that the people who were restrained in such ways may well have been seeking the type of deep pressure touch that Temple Grandin describes as being very helpful to her, in reducing her anxiety and her distress.

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