Inflating OTO chair is designed to hug and comfort people with autism

Those of you familiar with the work of animal behaviorist Temple Grandin — or with the biopic starring Claire Danes — might remember the squeeze machine she created to calm herself. Using the same principle of applying deep pressure to the body, French cabinetmaker Alexia Audrain designed OTO, the hugging chair.

A wooden chair that envelopes the body like a cocoon, OTO is lined with soft panels that inflate to embrace a person's upper body and legs. With buttons to increase or decrease pressure, users remain fully in control — unlike when they're therapeutically held by another person. 

While the chair started off as a student project in response to a brief by healthcare provider Adapei, Audrain is now building 5 more units for further testing, with the aim of launching to market in September 2022. Meanwhile, OTO won France's national James Dyson Award for 2021 and is in the running for the international prize.

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According to the WHO, about one in 160 children worldwide has an autism spectrum disorder, while in the US, 1 in 54 children have been identified with ASD. Regardless of exact numbers, people with autism need tools to help them deal with overwhelm. 

OTO's strength is in addressing that need with an attractive piece of furniture. Rather than focusing solely on function, designer Alexia Audrain created a chair that's both therapeutically beneficial and aesthetically pleasing, avoiding the potential stigma associated with an object that's immediately recognizable as a medical device.

Given the popularity of weighted blankets beyond those diagnosed with ASD, we wouldn't be surprised to see a wider range of users adopt the hugging chair, too. The broader takeaways here? Everyone deserves the dignity that comes well-designed products. And physical manifestations of self-care will increasingly make their way into homes and offices.

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