Sensory Chairs Comfortably Snuggle Children with Autism

Students in the CAPS program at Blue Valley High School built the Sensory Chair to comfort children with deep tough therapy. TAMMY LJUNGBLAD, THE KANSAS CITY STAR

Students in the CAPS program at Blue Valley High School built the Sensory Chair to comfort children with deep touch therapy. TAMMY LJUNGBLAD, THE KANSAS CITY STAR

A group of engineering students at a Kansas City High School have developed a special piece of furniture that provides comfort to anxious children, which they hope to patent soon.

Stuart Jackson, a concerned father from the local community, approached students at the Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) to help find some relief for his autistic son Joshua. Mr. Jackson found that he was able to soothe his child’s anxiety by using deep touch pressure.

This type of contact is what a person would feel if they were embraced tightly, and some have found it highly effective in treating children with autism when they experience meltdown symptoms. Seniors at CAPS have already tested their chair on some children, and found that it calmed a panicked child right away.

The students have created two prototypes- The Sensory Chair and The Sensory Lounger. The items are designed to resemble a normal price of furniture and will likely retail for under $1,000.

Jackson has previously searched for such items currently on the market, and found no good solution. Available devices were either too loud or clunky, or not effective. An engineer and entrepreneur himself, Jackson came to CAPS to bring his idea to life- an affordable, practical and effective therapeutic chair.

The idea can be credited to Temple Grandin, an autism activist and academic scholar at Colorado University. Grandin has had an extremely accomplished career despite living with autism. As a teenager, she witnessed some calves receiving vaccinations on her aunt’s farm. When they received the shots, they were placed in a “cattle squeezing” device, which calmed them down noticeably. Grandin tried the machine on herself and also found it quite comforting.

Following that discovery, Grandin invented a “squeeze machine” that worked similarly to the cattle chute but could be used on children. The device provided deep, evenly applied touch stimulation for the child.

Jackson hopes that this special invention will be used at Timber Creek Elementary School, where his son attends the LIFT program for children on the severe end of the autistic spectrum. Administration told him that Grandin’s “hug” machine was far too expensive for the school to afford.

Both prototypes designed by the engineering students at CAPS use inflatable airbags surrounded by a swimming noodle for extra padding. The interior components are covered by stretch fabric and secured with an elastic band. Caregivers are able to control the airbag’s pressure by using a remote.

Though they use similar technology, the chair was created using a papasan circular design, while the lounger is more like a small chaise lounge that children can lie down on.  The lounger provides a bed for deep relaxation, while the chair is smaller and lighter for easier transport.

The lounge prototype was taken to Timber Creek for testing. Out of the five children who tried it, none of them wanted to get out.

Deep touch sensory therapy has proven effective for many children, but the future of The Sensory Chair and The Sensory Lounger depend on proving there is demand for the product. If the creators of the sensory therapeutic devices are able to demonstrate this need, their next step will be to present their business model to investors for manufacture and distribution.