Deep Pressure

Deep Pressure

You may have heard your OT talk about deep pressure before. You might have noticed that your child finds extra tight hugs or being squeezed during “rough and tumble” play quite calming. Why is this? What are the benefits of deep pressure?

Why?

Clinical studies have supported what many allied health professionals, teachers and support workers have observed – deep pressure can help calm children (see references below). A common symptom of sensory processing difficulties, attention disorders and autism spectrum disorders is high arousal levels or anxiety. Deep pressure is commonly used by occupational therapists to help reduce arousal levels and anxiety or support “sensory modulation”. This is because this type of touch to the body can cause the release of certain brain chemicals (such as dopamine – the “pleasure” neurotransmitter), creates a parasympathetic response in the body (more relaxed, neutral state) and can reduce cortisol levels (the “stress” hormone). Deep pressure touch is also known to help increase our body awareness and over extended periods of time reduce hypersensitivity of the tactile system.

deep pressure

(image source: https://au.pinterest.com/pin/80572280806753680/)

Activities to do at home

  • Hotdog Roll (You can lay your child at the end of the empty quilt cover and slowly roll your child, wrapping them up in the quilt – some even like a squeeze or massage at the end, before being rolled back out). This is a nice deep pressure and proprioceptive activity –not all children like this experience; stop immediately if your child becomes distressed.
  • Use of beanbag chairs in classrooms or at home laying on the stomach or back for consistent pressure input. This is quite a passive method of implementing deep pressure but is still useful.
  • “Rough and tumble” play
  • Deep pressure massage with hands or spiky ball (again, not all children like this type of experience, stop immediately if your child becomes distressed).

Final Word

It is important to note the way we act as carers when trialling these types of activities. If the aim is to help our child to calm down, then our voices and movements should reflect this. For example, if we trial deep pressure massage with lots of energy and a big loud voice as if we are tickling our child, this will NOT have a calming effect. However, if we have a quiet calm voice, move slowly and rhythmically during the activity this will support a more relaxed environment.

 

References:

  1. Ayres, A. J., & Tickle, L. S. (1980). Hyper-Responsivity to touch and vestibular stimuli as a predictor of positive response to sensory integration procedures by autistic children. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 34(6), 375-81.
  2. Edelson, S. M., Edelson, M. G., Kerr, D. C., & Grandin, T. (1999). Behavioral and physiological effects of deep pressure on children with autism: A pilot study evaluating the efficacy of grandin’s hug machine. The American Journal of Occupational Therapy. : Official Publication of the American Occupational Therapy Association, 53(2), 145-52.
  3. Kimball JG, Lynch KM, Stewart KC, Williams NE, Thomas MA, Atwood KD. Using salivary cortisol to measure the effects of a Wilbarger protocol-based procedure on sympathetic arousal: a pilot study. Am J Occup Ther. 2007 Jul-Aug;61(4):406-13.
2 Comments
  • Yvonne Kringle
    Posted at 19:06h, 07 June Reply

    I work in the education field as a education support person. The young boy whom I have been placed with has been diagnosed with ODD and ADHD. I have worked with him for 3 years. I’m suspecting he is on the spectrum due to sensory issues. Loud noises upset him, requires continuety and likes structure. My question is: over the last 4 weeks , when I’m about to leave for the day, he will ask for squeezy hugs. Sometimes up to 6 one after the other. He is now 7 and has had a sudden growth spurt , Does that mean his needs are changing and the squeezy hugs are due to the need for deep body pressure. If so, how can I safely give it to him. I looked at the squeezy roller type equipment but would be unsuccessful in asking for the school to supply one, due to the cost. His mother has not applied for NDIS. I Thankyou in advance for taking the time to read this.

    • Michelle Mennillo
      Posted at 13:31h, 28 June Reply

      Hi Yvonne,
      If this boy is accessing psychology or OT I would consult the specific therapist for strategies. There are multiple things going on here, but it does appear he is seeking more deep pressure. Ideally, he could access deep pressure and heavy work independently, ie bouncing up and down on an exercise ball, doing monkey bars. We can’t comment over here how to safely hug him, there are just too many variables at play – it’s complicated in the school setting vs at home. Good luck

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