Squeeze me

A couple of weeks ago I posted about Poss and her handstands. While I saw it purely as a frustrating bedtime delaying tactic, her very wise carer, Lucy (who is also a qualified OT) suggested in the comments that it might be  her seeking a form of deep pressure therapy. And it clicked. I now understand why she was doing it out and why she sleeps better afterwards.

For those of you not living on the edges of the spectrum, you probably have no idea what I am talking about. I would try to explain it, but not being a doctor or a therapist of any kind, I thought I would use Temple Grandin’s definition instead (from this article).

Deep touch pressure is the type of surface pressure that is exerted in most types of firm touching, holding, stroking, petting of animals, or swaddling. In contrast, light touch pressure is a more superficial stimulation of the skin, such as tickling, ver y light touch, or moving hairs on the skin. In animals, the tickle of a fly landing on the skin may cause a cow to kick, but the firm touch of the farmer’s hands quiets her. Occupational therapists have observed that a very light touch alerts the nervous system, but deep pressure is relaxing and calming.

In our house, we have a number of deep pressure ‘tricks’ up our sleeves taught to us by her occupational therapist. While we don’t go as far as employing the ‘squeeze machine’ that Temple describes in her article, we have others that give us similar results. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes she pushes us away, not wanting us to hold or touch her. Other times she will seek out the deep pressure herself.

But when she is stiff and twitchy, with the anxiety bubbling beneath the surface, it’s worth a try. To see if they can work their magic and calm her. Calm her enough for the sleep to come. They range from a simple arm massage, through to a tricky manoeuvre we call ‘the pizza’ (although I am sure that’s not what it’s really called!) involving a squashing her with a fit ball.

We also incorporate deep pressure into her daily routine. Jumping jacks, trampoline, hanging from the monkey bars, climbing and rolling all employ the deep pressure techniques. At her OT sessions, they use it in a more formalised format, with the use of swings, tunnels and crash pads. These things help keep her regulated throughout the day.

It’s one of those things I guess, where we are learning to look at the world a little differently. Trying to understand it from Poss’ eyes and meet needs we don’t fully understand ourselves. The next time I catch her doing handstands before bed, I think I will let her!
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  1. Wow, I hadn’t thought of the differences between light and heavier touch, but heavier touch is so calming.

    I’m so glad you’re sharing these things.

    Hope the sleep fairies are generous this week x

  2. Can I have a disclaimer? Just in case some other person of greater experience than me says I’m wrong, I am only a VERY newly graduated OT!!!

  3. I was so thrilled the day Heidi first said “I need squishes”, signaled a huge leap in her ability to not only recognise what her body needed but also articulate that need. Annie who is older doesn’t seem to have made that leap yet. I sometimes wonder if all the years of early intervention helped Heidi in this regard.

    • I love it! So great to hear about Heidi, I hope that Poss works out how to express that need one day. She will ask for an arm massage occasionally, but we usually have to offer. We’ll keep working on it though – one day she will get there.


  1. […] that our psychologist teach Poss self-calming techniques, (along with the techniques we supplement from her OT), before she would consider prescribing melatonin. Those are skills Poss will always have, and we […]

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