A hug a day keeps anxiety at bay

Engineers from the University of Massachusetts, in the US, are developing a 'hugging vest', which it is hoped will provide its wearers with a discreet hug whenever they feel the need.

People with autism or a high level of anxiety can derive a very therapeutic sense of security from being held firmly, though hugs from other humans are not always of the required intensity or duration - so try a vest.

The new 'vest' is actually a body-warmer-style sleeveless jacket, or gilet, with an inner layer of air bladders connected to a battery-powered air pump. Once development of the design is more advanced, it is proposed to test this on students and psychiatric patients.

Famously, Temple Grandin - author of Thinking in Pictures and other books about her life with autism - first got her mechanical hugs from a cattle chute, which she had noticed was very effective in calming cattle while they are being branded. This led her to design her own 'Squeeze Machine', which she still uses on a regular basis to provide her with the deep pressure which she needs to help her cope with her anxiety.

Click here for more about the 'Squeeze Machine' - also known as a 'Squeeze Box', 'Hug Box', or 'Hug Machine'.
Weighted blankets have been used successfully for some time and several studies have confirmed that around 76% of patients respond favourably to this approach.

There are already some therapeutic vests on the market that use weights, but the new air-pressured UMass vest will be lighter and more adjustable.

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Click here for more research reports on possible treatments for autism

First Published January 2007

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