By: Laura Bueche, MOT OTR/L
Our bodies are constantly receiving and processing sensory information around us. Our senses give us the information we need to function in the world. We receive information from stimuli both outside and inside our bodies. Our sensory systems include auditory (hearing), vision, olfactory (smell), vestibular (movement), tactile (touch), gustatory (taste), and proprioceptive (body awareness). Sensory processing is the neurological process that organizes and interprets all the sensations we receive so we can function effectively within the environment.
What is Deep Pressure?
Deep touch pressure is a combination of a tactile and proprioceptive input which is often provided by firm holding, firm stroking, cuddling, hugging, and squeezing.
The proprioceptive sense refers to the sensory input and feedback that tells us about movement and body position. Proprioceptive receptors are located within our muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, and connective tissues. It is one of the “deep senses” and could be considered the “position sense” (as Carol Stock Kranowitz refers to it in her book entitled The Out-of-Sync Child.
If a child is having difficulty processing proprioceptive input, they’re brain isn’t receiving proper messages regarding whether muscles are being stretched, whether joints are bending or straightening, and how much of each of these is happening, children may seek out more intense forms of proprioceptive or deep pressure input. Kids with tactile and/or proprioceptive sensory processing dysfunction may seek out deep pressure input to send a stronger message to their nervous system. Deep pressure may help them “dampen” averse tactile sensations or may give them a greater sense of where their body is in a space.
Indicators of Deep Pressure Seeking
- Tensing/squeezing muscles of the body
- Crashing into furniture
- Enjoys climbing into small spaces
- Head banging
- Grinding teeth
- Pushing on chin
- Stomping feet
- Mouthing non-food items
- Toe walking
- Leaning into people
Deep Pressure Input Activities
- Bear hugs – give a big hug, wrapping arms all the way around the child while maintaining constant and firm pressure
- Mummy wrap – wrap the child up tightly in a sheet or blanket like a mummy tucking the ends of the material in.
- Wilbarger’s Brushing Protocol
- Joint Compressions
- Lycra or net swing
- Body socks
- Hot Dog and Sandwich games- Squish the child with large pillows or mat (be careful not to apply too much pressure and watch for cues from the child)
- Steam Roller game – with the child laying on the mat, roll a large ball or peanut over him while providing firm pressure.
- Crab, Bear, and Wheelbarrow walks
- Compression shirts and vests
- Weighted Vests
- Bean bag chairs
- Chewy tubes/Chewy jewelry
- Crunchy and chewy snacks
Deep Pressure Input Benefits
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. (Ayers, 1992)
Deep touch stimulation is beneficial to typically developing babies (Barnard and Brazelton 1990, Gunzenhauser 1990). Institutionalized babies who received supplemental tactile stimulation, mainly deep touch pressure, developed more typically (Provence and Lipton 1962). Premature babies who receive stroking and tightly bound swaddling also are reported to show definite benefits (Anderson 1986, Field et al. 1986, Lieb et al. 1980). (Ayers, 1992)
If you think you child is seeking deep pressure input or has a sensory processing disorder, schedule an occupational therapy evaluation before trying to implement a sensory program at home. For more information on our occupational therapy program visit: http://www.easterseals.com/dfv/our-programs/medical-rehabilitation/occupational-therapy.html.