One of the characteristics of Temple Grandin’s autistic psyche was “I always hated to be hugged.” In Thinking in Pictures she says she hated the experience because it involved just too much stimulation — overload — a “fight or flight” response. What she craved most was not hugging, but body pressure in a confined space. She used to wrap herself in blankets or wedge her body into small spaces to enjoy the sense of pressure her body craved.
For most people without autism, many of Grandin’s peculiar behaviors are hard to comprehend. Grandin says that while visiting her aunt’s ranch in Arizona, she saw cattle held tightly in a squeeze chute so they would remain inactive while being vaccinated. What surprised her most was the calming effect the gentle squeezing had on the cattle. The pressure definitely calmed them.
Because she longed for this same sensory effect, Grandin built her own human squeeze machine out of plywood panels that would push in against her sides while she lay on her stomach with her head through a halter to anchor it in place. While this may seem grotesque and terrifying to some people, Grandin would often spend 30 or more minutes in her squeeze machine until her anxieties and/or panic attacks could be controlled. It was this gentle bodily comfort that helped her transfer kindness and gentleness to people and animals. She admits her feelings “are much more like the emotions of a child than an adult.”
Author Grandin reveals a lot about the traits of persons with autism. She specifically titled her wonderfully written book Thinking in Pictures because those three words describe her brain’s thinking mechanism. Grandin thinks in pictures. Without them, her life would be turmoil. When her family and educators began relating to her through pictures, Grandin’s superior intellect took flight.