During my studies as a cabinetmaker and designer. I built the prototype of this chair as part of a final project to design and build innovative wooden furniture that met the needs of specialist users.
People with autism and educators were involved in developing the design from the start of the project. I worked with autistic people and specialist educators and psychometricians to understand their daily life and their needs to ensure that my design was practical and useful. I also worked with a specialist school for autistic people in Blain (western France) which helped me to understand the sensory needs of autistic people, and the use of deep pressure therapy to manage anxiety.
Autistic people’s sensory processing difficulties have been understood for many years. Dr Temple Grandin, a famous autistic American, is a professor at Colorado State University and is known for designing systems to handle livestock.
She first began to think about ‘squeeze machine’ when she saw how pressure had a soothing effect on livestock. She went on to build the first prototype to meet her own sensory needs.
Her device has two panels, one on each side of the user’s body. The user controls a pneumatic actuator to pull the panels together, applying controlled pressure to their body.
I chose to design a piece of furniture – with the same function, and which meets the need for deep pressure – but with a non-stigmatising design that also contributes to the soothing sensation. I worked with teams from the educational centre in Blain for over a year to realize this first prototype.
Since January 2021, my project – OTO the hugging chair – has been evaluated by Professor Bonnet-Brilhault at the Université de Tours, a national center of excellence for autism in France. Feedback from people with autism enables me to better understand their needs, and testing looks at the impact of the chair, enabling me to make modifications to the design and improve the user’s experience, for example by adjusting the levels of noise and light emitted. This approach is helping me to produce furniture that is useful, usable, and used in the long term.
Following the success of my project, I am now actively developing it with the intention of commercializing and sharing it further.
If you’d like more information about this project :