Clinical Effects of Deep Touch Pressure
Deep touch pressure is the type of surface pressure that is exerted in most types of firm touching, holding or swaddling. Occupational therapists have observed that a very light touch alerts the nervous system, but deep pressure is relaxing and calming.
Deep pressure touch has been found to have beneficial effects in a variety of clinical settings (Barnard and Brazelton 1990, Gunzenhauser 1990). In anecdotal reports, deep touch pressure has been described to produce a calming effect in children with psychiatric disorders.
Deep pressure stimulation, such as rolling up in a gym mat, has been used to calm children with Autistic Disorder and ADHD (Ayres 1979, King 1989). Lorna King (personal communication, 1990) reports that children with sleeping problems appear to sleep better inside of a mummy sleeping bag, which adapts to fit the body snuggly.
It also has been used to reduce tactile defensiveness in children who cannot tolerate being touched. McClure and Holtz-Yotz (1991) found that deep pressure applied by foam-padded splints on the arms reduced self-injurious behavior and self-stimulation in an autistic child.
Research on Autistic children indicates that they prefer proximal sensory stimulation such as touching, tasting, and smelling to distal sensory stimulation of hearing and seeing (Kootz et al. 1981). Autistic children will often seek out deep pressure sensations. At various lecture meetings of parents of Autistic individuals, parents have reported to me various types of pressure-seeking behaviour of their offspring, such as wrapping arms and legs in elastic bandages, sleeping under many blankets even during warm weather, and getting under mattresses. A high functioning Autistic woman stated, “I need heavy blankets on me to sleep well, or else my muscles won’t calm down.”
Grandin T., 1992, ‘Calming Effects of Deep Touch Pressure in Patients with Autistic Disorder, College Students, and Animals’, Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, Vol. 2, No. 1