Students with autism find comfort in 'hug chair' invented by Regina undergrads

Students with autism at Regina's Winston Knoll high school are squeezing their worries away.

'They can go on with their day after a hug, like the rest of us,' says teacher

Blaine Bosley demonstrates the new squeeze chair to help special needs children

7 years ago
Duration 1:29
Blaine Bosley demonstrates the new squeeze chair to help special needs children

Students with disabilities at Regina's Winston Knoll high school are squeezing their worries away.

The program's teacher and some University of Regina engineering students teamed up to build a "squeeze chair".

It gives them a sense of comfort.- Blayne Bosley, teacher of special needs students

"We find for a lot of autistic kids, and a lot of kids, they need deep pressure," said Blayne Bosley, the teacher who worked to have the chair made.

"It gives them a sense of comfort. Lots of our autistic kids out there don't like physical touch, so mechanical touch is a bit better for them. Having a hug chair that they don't have to touch people, and get the same sensation, is a great thing for them. It actually calms their joints, their body, their muscles so they can go on with their day after a hug, like the rest of us."

One student, Brooklyn Ruecker, has a global development delay. She typically uses the chair once in the morning and at lunch.

"She's very outgoing, talkative, life of the party type person," Bosley said. "Afterwards, Brooklyn is calmer and can go about her day differently and more effectively."

Brooklyn Ruecker typically uses the squeeze chair twice a day to help calm down. (Tiffany Cassidy/CBC)

The students sit in a comfortable lounge chair and lower an airbag over their chest. It expands and releases to give a comfortable squeeze.

"I think lots of people could use these," Bosley said. "This is the only one in existence right now."

Bosley couldn't find any mechanical squeeze chairs on the market, despite the idea being around for a while.

The idea was taken from Temple Grandin's famous work into how pressure can help those with autism. Grandin has autism herself, and observed how cattle calmed down in a squeeze chute. She created her own "hug box" where users squat and are squeezed between two padded boards.

Before the mechanical squeeze chair, Bosley would pile bean bag chairs around a student so that there was no physical touch, but the students still got the hug sensation.

Engineering students tackle the project

Marten Fidler helped build the squeeze chair with the help of two other University of Regina engineering students. (Tiffany Cassidy/CBC)

Three University of Regina engineering students built the chair as part of a fourth-year project.

The team briefly considered a design more like a sleeping bag, but decided it would be restricting.

When the team dropped off the final product, they were able to see some students test it out.

"It was really rewarding," said Marten Fidler, one of the engineering students. "The response by one of the students from Winston Knoll that was actually quite vocal was 'good' and that's it ... That's I guess a pretty good feedback."

Bosley hopes to improve the technology

At the moment, Bosley said four students can make use of the chair.

He hopes to make some developments to it in the near future. He'd like to make some of the adjustments easier so that the students can use it on their own without his help. Bosley said he could possibly even produce more.

"If we ever developed the other chairs, it could be in everybody's home eventually, which would be very cool," he said.


Tiffany Cassidy is the Digital Associate Producer at CBC Saskatchewan.


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