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What is a Hug Machine?

By Christina Whyte
Updated May 17, 2024
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A hug machine or hug box is a device that applies pressure to a person's body using padded boards, and is controlled by the user to vary the amount of pressure. This deep pressure is very soothing to many people, particularly those with autism spectrum disorders such as autism or Asperger's disorder. Hug machines are used by adults and children to help regulate anxiety and obtain comfort, especially when the touch of another person is unwanted or unavailable.

People on the autism spectrum have a number of challenges, including finding a number of things overwhelming, such as noise, touch, and social situations. Steady pressure on the body seems to help calm many people with autism spectrum disorders and feels good to them. Human contact such as a hug may be too overstimulating, not provide the right kind of pressure, or require too much social interaction to be helpful. People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and some types of anxiety also tend to find a hug machine comforting and calming, and some people without any disorders also feel calmed by it.

The hug machine, also known as a squeeze machine, was developed by the scientist and author Temple Grandin, who has autism. She developed it to calm herself when feeling overstimulated, after observing the calming effect of deep pressure on animals. Deep pressure involves firm touch, such as hugging or massage, as opposed to light pressure such as stroking. It is still unclear exactly why deep pressure is calming, but this seems to be true for many animals as well as humans with and without neurological disorders.

Both children and adults can benefit from a hug machine. It is important that the person using the hug machine be able to control the pressure, slowly increasing and decreasing it as desired and stopping it when done. The machine can also be used to increase a person's tolerance for touch by increasing the length and intensity of sessions. People who are claustrophobic will probably find the hug machine intolerable, but almost no other negative side effects exist.

It is possible to purchase or rent a hug machine, including ones designed in collaboration with Grandin, both online and in stores. It is important that the machine fits the person intending to use it. This machine could also be made at home with some degree of carpentry skills. A similar effect can be found for small children using beanbag chairs, cushions, or rolling the child up in a mat or heavy blanket, although this is less practical for older children.

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