5 Ways to Use Deep Pressure to Calm a Child

by Liz Gray
(Salt Lake City, UT)

5 Ways to Use Deep Pressure to Calm a Child

By Liz Gray
A child can become excited or calmed by touch. Light touch, such as tickling, can excite the nervous system. Deep pressure touch, such as firm stroking or squeezing, can calm the system. Occupational Therapists have found that individuals with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) respond well to deep pressure. Temple Grandin, a well-known advocate for Autism and SPD, created a device she called the “squeeze machine” to give herself deep pressure. She stated that she created the squeeze machine to help her “overcome problems of oversensitivity to touch”. (Grandin, 1992) Squeeze machines have been replicated, but they cost thousands of dollars. Realistically, most families cannot afford one. So here are some simple, deep pressure activities to do at home for little or no cost.

1. Swaddling is not just for babies. Many young children love to be wrapped tight in a stretchy blanket or bedsheet and snuggled by a parent or caregiver.

2. Pretend that you are making a sandwich with your child’s body. Place the child on his tummy between two gym mats or heavy couch cushions with his head poking out.

4. Give bear hugs. Both the giver and the receiver will benefit!

5. Have the child lay under heavy or weighted blankets. A woman with high functioning autism once told Grandin “I need heavy blankets on me to sleep well, or else my muscles won’t calm down” (Grandin, 1992)

Many individuals with SPD enjoy receiving deep pressure so much that it can be perceived as a reinforcement or reward. (McGinnis, Blakely, Harvey, Hodges, and Rickards, 2013) Therefore it’s important to provide deep pressure at appropriate times. It can be given throughout the day (as part of a sensory diet) or before sensory overload behavior escalates. If deep pressure is given during meltdowns or other problem times, it can reinforce inappropriate behavior. Deep pressure can be given as positive reinforcement for appropriate behaviors, but should not be withheld as a punishment.

An Occupational Therapist can offer further information and training regarding deep pressure as a way to manage SPD.

Grandin, T. (1992). Calming effects of deep touch pressure in patients with autistic disorder, college students, and animals. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmocology, 2, 1-13.
McGinnis, A., Blakely, E., Harvey, A., Hodges, A., & Rickards, J. (2013). The behavioral effects of a procedure used by pediatric occupational therapists. Behavioral Interventions, 28, 48-57.

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