Use of Deep Pressure in Occupational Therapy

One of our summer interns – Kenni Voytek from Baldwin Wallace – wrote this piece in response to some of the observations she has made this summer. Thanks so much Kenni!

Pediatric occupational therapy plays an important role in the lives of children unable to
do daily tasks, or occupations, independently. The role of an occupational therapist is to assist
these children with activities to increase their level of independence. One occupation includes
sleep and rest, where an occupational therapist will assist a child in helping to relax and calm
down. In my internship, I have observed the treatment of deep pressure to help children relax.
In one session I was observing, a child with downs syndrome was rowdy and wouldn’t sit
still. The COTA got the child to sit, and I started observing her give the child squeezes, a form of
deep pressure, and the child started to relax and became happy. This interested me, as I didn’t
know giving a child deep pressure exemplified these effects.

The article by Lana Bestbier and Tim I. Williams called: The Immediate Effects of Deep
Pressure on Young People with Autism and Severe Intellectual Difficulties: Demonstrating
Individual Differences, stated deep pressure is used widely by occupational therapists for those
with autism and severe intellectual disabilities. Deep pressure is the “sensation produced when an
individual is hugged, squeezed, stroked, or held” (Bestbier & Williams, 2017) . Within this
article, deep pressure was found to have different effects on each child, yet still improving most
behavior overall. Deep pressure effected the areas of calmness, being engaged, responsivity,
happiness, and communicativeness (Bestbier & Williams, 2017) . Because of the different results
in improvement, deep pressure should be catered to the individual of a child craving the
sensation of touch.

When observing another session, the COTA and I were in a sensory room with many
different objects. The COTA explained that two of the objects, a giant landing pillow and a
trampoline, were used for deep pressure. At first, I didn’t make a connection to how, but then she
explained that some children wanting deep pressure still want to be active, so jumping on the

trampoline and then faceplanting into the landing pillow gives them the pressure sensation that
they need. Also in this room was a weighted blanket, which also is used for deep pressure in a
calming manner (I have one myself to fall asleep, I love it).

Reading this deep pressure article and remembering what was in the sensory room, I can
now understand how some deep pressure treatments may work for certain individuals and not
others. It’s all personal preference and the different diagnoses that effect which method of deep
pressure improves behavior the most.

Works Cited

Bestbier, L., & Williams, T. I. (2017, January 9). The Immediate Effects of Deep Pressure on
Young People with Autism and Severe Intellectual Difficulties: Demonstrating Individual
Differences . PubMed Central.

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