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?
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.
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).
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.