Temple Grandin's squeeze machine as prosthesis

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Author: Maria Almanza
Date: Summer 2016
From: Journal of Modern Literature(Vol. 39, Issue 4)
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 6,397 words

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Temple Grandin's squeeze machine calls for a reconsideration of autisticpersonhood. In Emergence: Labeled Autistic Thinking in Pictures: and Other Reports from My Life with Autism, Grandin explores the sensory relief provided by the squeeze machine, as well as its function as a prosthetic extension of the self Though the squeeze machine may be read as a prosthetic antidote for the autist's supposed lack in feeling, Grandin's machine expresses a form of autistic sensory difference that moves us beyond the deficit model of autism. While the squeeze machinefunctions as a prosthetic device, it is neither restorative nor adjunctive. Instead, the machine exposes the autist's creative engagement with her surroundings and disrupts our larger understanding of subjectivity.

Keywords: neurotypicality / squeeze machine / Temple Grandin / autism / prosthesis

It was through the use of the cattle chute, a device I have been designing in my head since early childhood, that I taught myself how to feel.

--Grandin and Scariano 117


Temple Grandin is arguably the most famous autist and certainly the most widely published. Since the 1986 release of her first book, Emergence: Labeled Autistic, she has authored eight additional books on animal behavior and autistic thinking. The most recent portrayal of Grandin in the HBO film Temple Grandin (2010) has solidified her status as the autistic success story. At the center of Grandin's story is the "squeeze machine." Her famous intervention into autistic sensory overload, the squeeze machine compresses its user under the controlled deep pressure of the device's two side panels. (1) Grandin describes the machine as essential to her process of "recovery." It is only after she begins to use the squeeze machine that she is able to relax and interact with others. While Grandin's squeeze machine has proven to be effective in creating bearable forms of stimuli for people with autism, this article focuses less on the machine's mechanics. Instead, I address Grandin's squeeze machine as a prosthetic site of self-invention and an expression of autistic sensory difference that, ultimately, calls into question our notions of subjectivity.


Halfway through Emergence, in a chapter titled "The Magical Device," Grandin introduces readers to her inspiration for the squeeze machine: a cattle chute. The cattle chute is presented by way of two photographs. In the first, a cow peers at the camera from the confines of the machine; the animal is locked into a contraption that presses against its tense bovine sides. The second image is that of a young Temple happily placed in the exact same pose. Describing her introduction to the cattle chute as one of the most meaningful encounters of her life, she writes, "[My aunt] Ann pulled the rope, which pulled the sides of the squeeze chute together. Soon I felt their firm pressure on my sides. Ordinarily, I would have withdrawn from such pressure ... [but] the effect was both stimulating and relaxing at the same time" (Grandin and Scariano 94-95). Inspired by this life-changing encounter, Grandin would fashion a prototype for the squeeze machine.

In her autobiography, Grandin explains that the squeeze machine, like the cattle chute, calms her nerves and allows her to better concentrate. She also notes the machine's "magical" capacity to allow her to feel complex human emotions--emotions that are initially described as a byproduct of the machine. Grandin writes, "I was making great strides in communicating with people. I attributed this 'break through' in getting along better with people to my maligned squeeze machine. It enabled me to learn to be gentle, to have empathy, to know that gentleness is not synonymous with weakness. I was learning how to feel" (Grandin and Scariano 108). Such claims seem to credit the machine with Grandin's improved socialization, and in turn point to the device as a prosthetic remedy for the autist's assumed social deficit.

This issue of social deficit is, after all, at the center of many theories on autism. Paradigms conceptualizing autism range from Simon Baron-Cohen's assertion that the autist lacks "theory of mind," the supposed keystone of social interaction, to conjecture about misfires and crossed synapses in the "social" regions of our modular brains. (2) From cognitive psychology to cognitive neuroscience, autism is often described by way of a range of social symptoms such as: "treating others as inanimate objects, disinterest in and even aversion to meeting another's gaze, absence of social referencing behavior, [and a] lack of normal response to others' emotional displays" (McGeer 236). Indifference to human contact, communicative difficulties, and a supposed lack of empathy have been conceived as both the symptoms of autism and as autism itself.

Grandin's squeeze machine appears to cover up these social deficits, in the manner of what Tim Armstrong refers to as a "negative prosthesis." Armstrong explains that a "'negative' prosthesis involves the replacing of a body part ... [and] operates under the sign of compensation" (78). The squeeze machine's rehabilitative promise is a familiar one given the literature on prostheses. Since the beginnings of the medical definition of "prosthesis," the term has taken on a compensatory meaning for the "replacement of a missing part of the body with an artificial one" (qtd. in Wills 218). One study reports that "historical documents related to prosthetics are rife with visual narratives that chronicle the revocation of and a return to normalcy" (Ott, Serlin, and Mihm 11). As I will argue, Grandin's squeeze machine does not function as a prosthetic means of compensation, but rather serves as an expression of autistic sensory difference. The machine exposes neurotypical perceptions of autism at the same time that it challenges and deconstructs our existing models of subjectivity. Accordingly, this article moves from a discussion of the symbolism of the squeeze machine as a prosthetic device, to the way in which the machine exceeds our overly simplistic models of rehabilitation to reveal the autist's dynamic relation to her environment. As I will argue, the squeeze machine exposes neurosensory aspects of autism while representing autism as a different, rather than deficient, experience of the world.


It is noteworthy that Grandin's initial interaction with the cattle chute attests to the machine not as a form of prosthetic rehabilitation but as a means of extending her body to communicate with non-human forms of life. Grandin first encounters the chute while on her aunt's cattle ranch; noticing the emotional frenzy of the calves that are lined up for their vaccinations, she takes an interest in the chute's capacity to calm the "wild-eyed and nervous calves." Indeed, it is the cattle chute that prompts Grandin to move beyond her own human exceptionalism as she considers how animals think and feel, and how their embodied experience might relate to her own. Recognizing the chute's calming effects, she describes the device as a prosthetic extension of herself; "A good operator can make the squeeze chute act like an extension of his hands," Grandin writes (Grandin and Scariano 134). Though autists are often portrayed as lacking empathy, here Grandin admires the machine for the comfort it affords the calves. She acknowledges that when she touched the cattle, it "brought [her] closer to the reality of their being" (Grandin 89). As this scene makes apparent, it is the cattle chute that prompts Grandin to experience a greater underlying connection between herself and other life forms--an insight that colors much of her writing on animal and autistic thinking.

Grandin further develops the connection between herself and animals in Thinking in Pictures, in which she asserts that her knowledge of animals is the product of her visual thinking. She explains, "I think in pictures. Words are like a second language to me. I translate both spoken and written words into full-cover movies, complete with sound, which run like a VCR tape in my head" (3). Grandin continues, "It is very likely that animals [also] think in pictures and memories of smell, light, and sound patterns. In fact, my visual thinking patterns probably resemble animal thinking more closely than those of verbal thinkers" (187). Describing her imagination as a "video library" or a "Google image search," (3) she maintains that her ability to understand animal behavior is enhanced by her autistic thinking (5, 4). In fact, Grandin notes that early in her career she engaged cattle by way of visual technology: '"The first thing I did when I arrived at the feedlot was to put myself inside the cattle's heads and look out through their eyes. Because their eyes are on the sides of their heads, cattle have wide-angle vision.... I used a camera to help give me the animals' perspective as they walked through a chute" (4). Such passages present Grandin's capacity to think about subjecthood without privileging the human, while her eventual turn to the use of prosthetic devices represents forms of embodied thought that begin to problematize our focus on verbal thinking.

Expanding upon this discussion of non-verbal thinkers, we might consider a range of other sensory descriptions of autism. As Grandin acknowledges, "not all people with autism are highly visual thinkers, nor do they all process information this way" (12). There are a number of autists for whom sight, sound, or smell may be their primary means of understanding the world. For instance, Grandin references an autistic child who is taught to read using sandpaper letters (combining touch with language acquisition). Autism researcher and autist Theresa Joliffe reports that because of her auditory and visual distortion issues, she relied on her sense of touch to learn to read. There are "music and math thinkers" who use patterns to discern meaning, and "verbal logic thinkers" who tend to take an interest in "history, foreign languages, weather statistics," and the like (Grandin 29). "Several autistic people have told me that they remember people by smell," Grandin adds (71). In his bestselling autobiography Born on a Blue Day, autistic savant Daniel Tammet describes his synesthetic experience, in which a word like ladder appears "blue and shiny" "like the number 9 or the sound of loud voices" (1). Tammet contends that his multi-sensorial experience of language is responsible for his aptitude with foreign languages. In Songs of the Gorilla Nation, Dawn Prince Hughes describes her sensory "addictions" as equally useful. Recalling the sensorium of her childhood, she writes, "I ... had a visual affinity for turquoise. I would feel little turquoise shivers run up and down my spine and hear turquoise singing in my ears. It smelled something like vanilla milkshake and tasted like the sea" (Hughes 24). From a young age Hughes reports that she "had a very developed aesthetic sense" of the world (25). She continues, "It is like being blinded in the brightness of a keener sight" (Hughes 25). Accounts of autism such as these mark a notable shift from the language of neurotypical thinking, and provide an alternative means for conceptualizing the subject by way of sensory experience.

While these sensory narratives present a range of embodied thought, Grandin's account of her sensory experience is intimately linked to the squeeze machine. Grandin's mother, school authorities, and her therapist all expressed a discomfort with her use of the machine. Nonetheless, it is the squeeze machine that gives testimony to Grandin's unique sensory life. Remembering her youth, Grandin writes, "I had no idea at the time that my sensory experiences were different from those of others.... Since many people were trying to convince me to give up the machine, I had many ambivalent feelings" (61, 60). Grandin's school psychologist, for instance, suggested that the squeeze machine is pathological in nature. He pointedly asked Grandin, "We do not have an identity problem here, do we? I mean we don't think we're a cow or something, do we?" (qtd in Grandin and Scariano 99). Unable to discern the machine's symbolic significance, the psychologist reported, "I haven't decided whether this contraption of yours is a prototype of the womb or a casket" (qtd. in Grandin and Scariano 99).

Grandin's mother voiced a similar concern that the machine replaces human interaction with an unhealthy relationship to an inanimate object. Her mother explains:

Human beings are alive and respond. Objects cannot speak to you or hug you. Objects are only something made out of imagination and energy and raw materials. They can only mean whatever meaning we give them. A human isn't a private symbol or a representation of our effort, but a living creature who answers us.... We not only "love" but are "loved" in return. Objects cannot love you. Animals' love is limited, but human beings become deeply involved with each other, (qtd. in Grandin and Scariano 106)

Where the psychologist addresses identity issues, Grandin's mother responds to her daughter's relationship to objects. Despite these concerns voiced by neurotypicals, it is the squeeze machine that for Grandin best represents autistic experience by displaying sensory processing issues. Ultimately, it is the knowledge of these sensory issues that Grandin argues frees her from the problematic claim that she suffers from a social deficit. "It came as a kind of revelation, as well as a blessed relief, when I learned that my sensory problems weren't the result of my weakness or lack of character," writes Grandin (74).

Beyond providing a form of external mediation for Grandin's overwhelmed senses, the squeeze machine allows Grandin to reimagine her bodily boundaries and pushes neurotypicals to do the same. For instance, in Thinking in Pictures, Grandin describes the extension of her body via the cattle chute. "Through the machine, I reached out and held the animal.... Body boundaries seemed to disappear, and I had no awareness of pushing the lever ... the parts of the apparatus that held the animal felt as if they were an extension of my own body, similar to the phantom limb effect," writes Grandin (25). As animal studies scholar Cary Wolfe points out, "disability [here] becomes the positive, indeed enabling, condition for a powerful experience ... [one] that crosses the lines not only of species difference but also of the organic and inorganic, the biological and mechanical" (136). As a prosthetic device, the squeeze machine does not lead to Grandin's rehabilitation as we might initially assume. On the contrary, the machine upsets the boundaries of one body and the next, and in the process redefines our very understanding of the body.

While it is the machine's prosthetic qualities that prompt these insights, accounts of autism suggest that it is autism itself that pushes us to rethink our bodily constitution. In Thinking in Pictures, for example, Grandin describes autism's realignment of the body via "body boundary problems" (62). She quotes autist Jim Sinclair, who reports not being able to find his body, as well as Donna Williams who experiences her body as individual parts rather than one unified form. Williams "tapped rhythmically and sometimes slapped herself to determine where her body boundaries were" (Grandin 62). Similarly, Theresa Joliffe describes the sensory experience of autism as one intimately connected to the loss of boundaries: "Reality to an autistic person is a confusing interacting mass of events, people, places, sounds, and sights. There seem to be no clear boundaries" (qtd. in Grandin 72). Just as Grandin invokes the theory of the phantom limb, these references to "body boundary problems" gesture towards an imbrication of mind and body that effectively remaps the body and its surroundings while offering a materialist account of subjectivity. While Joliffe acknowledges the difficulties that can occur because of sensory mixing, Grandin's allusion to the prosthetic extension of her body offers a compelling example of the ways in which the machine opens her up to a more conscious understanding of herself and others. The squeeze machine's effects are thus multiple: from a practical perspective, the machine acknowledges the neurosensory experience of individuals on the spectrum. From a theoretical perspective, it invites us to think more broadly about issues of mediation and our own relationship to animals and objects, or rather how our surroundings participate in what we call the human. In the close of this section, I will take up each of these perspectives in turn and their importance to the study of autism.

Practically speaking, the squeeze machine represents the common, and yet sometimes ignored, neurosensory experience of autists. The very need for the machine suggests issues of hypersensitivity and overstimulation such as touch sensitivity, hypersensitive hearing, and visual processing problems, all of which are mediated to some extent when the machine's application of deep pressure interrupts the circuitry of the individual's overwhelmed nervous system. Grandin notes that prior to designing her machine she sought solace by embracing sofa cushions and tightly wrapping herself in blankets, a practice of many autists. Autist Tom McKean, for example, created his therapeutic pressure suit after fabricating a series of deep pressure devices at home, amongst which were very tight wristwatch straps. Both McKean and Grandin's inventions have led to a series of therapeutic technologies including: squeeze chairs, weighted vests, blankets, and stuffed animals that provide deep controlled pressure.

These inventions, or interventions, are important not only for ameliorating physical symptoms, but also helping us to think about the theoretical contradictions within neurotypical appraisals of autism. For while sensory problems are prevalent, immediate, and pressing in autists, neurotypical culture tends to focus primarily on what are perceived as the "social deficits" that accompany autism. Victoria McGeer points out, for example, that autists' descriptions of their own sensory-motor experiences are often called into question through the assumption that autists cannot accurately self-report. Critiquing the work of cognitive neuroscientists Uta Frith and Francesca Happe, McGeer notes that proponents of theory of mind often "disregard the letter of what autistics say" because of the belief that autists suffer from an impairment in self-awareness (240). In the words of Frith and Happe, even the most capable of autists are assumed to have "limited ... insight into their own feelings and thought processes" (qtd. in McGeer 241). Such neurotypical assumptions not only disregard autistic experience, but leave matters of diagnosis, treatment, and representation in the hands of clinicians whose authority is often predicated on the denial of autistic experience. As Grandin notes, "some teachers and therapists still do not recognize the importance of the sensory over sensibility. It must be difficult for them [neurotypicals] to imagine a totally different way of perceiving the world where sounds and lights are super intense" (82).

What is at issue then is the neurotypical's inability to imagine and reflect on what may seem like a radically different way of experiencing the world. Recognizing the importance of the squeeze machine would require one to recognize the autists desire for interaction in the face of sensory overload. This seems particularly difficult for proponents of theory of mind. Such a revelation would require the acknowledgment of autistic agency and the desire for social interaction--an assertion that seems to undermine the very foundations of theory of mind.

It is thus my contention that Grandin's squeeze machine and McKean's pressure suit return us to the site of the neurosensory, offering an alternative and embodied account of autism. Whereas theory of mind might suggest a fundamental lack of social relation, neurosensory issues indicate that the autists aversion to the social may, in fact, be the result of hypersensitivity rather than "sensibility." In this case, those "symptoms" or signs of social deficit can be read as something else entirely. For instance, an aversion to eye contact is likely to be interpreted as an inability to engage with others; however, averted eyes may be the autist's means of coping with the intensity of her visual field. As Stuart Shanker states, "a child who is overreactive to visual stimuli may resort to tuning out the world as much as possible to cope with this incessant assault. Simply looking into his mother's eyes when enface may be more than his nervous system may bear" (226). Grandin echoes Shanker when she writes that "some of the problems autistics have with making eye contact may be nothing more than an intolerance for the movement of another person's eyes. One autistic person reported that looking at other peoples' eyes was difficult because the eyes did not stay still" (Grandin 69).

Matthew Belmonte, for his part, points out that autists often form "repetitive and ritualistic behavior" in order to cope with their sensory chaos. A prime example is the autist's tendency toward "stimming," or repetitive movements such as hand flapping in order to control stimulation. (4) Jasmine Lee O'Neil, a nonverbal, high-functioning autist, writes of her self-stimulation:

I happen to have many self-stimulatory behaviours. I love them and enjoy them. I affectionately call them my 'stimmies'. Autistic people generally do enjoy their stimulations. They are comforted by them, and are relaxed by them. They may be embarrassing to parents or others, but they are pleasant for the autistic one. (Qtd. in McGeer 241)

Stimming's physical effects are augmented by psychological dynamics, according to Majia Nadesan, who argues that self-stimulatory behavior "can be explained psychoanalytically as a form of ego defense against psychic anxiety produced by sensory overload in contrast to a cognitive explanation" (91). In these terms, the autist is not outside of the social. Rather autists experience a more intense relationship to their surroundings, hence the need for the squeeze machine or stimming as forms of mediation.

In Grandin's writing on the squeeze machine we see exactly this: the machine helps Grandin mediate her overwhelming surroundings. Describing her initial use of the cattle chute, she writes that she "was able to direct Ann [her aunt] as to the comfortable degrees of pressure" (Grandin and Scariano 24). Ann, in turn, confirms the complexity of this moment, writing to Grandin's mother that "the cattle chute, which I'm sure you've heard about, was a symbol, which reconciled two opposing drives--the urge to submit to and enjoy tactile restraint and the opposing reluctance to allow anyone, even you, her mother, and certainly not the overpowering aunt to provide" (qtd. in Grandin and Scariano 97). The machine's submissive and dominant aspects are described as necessary for initiating contact with a subject who is otherwise resistant to interaction.

As a point of mediation, the machine functions as a prosthetic, non-linguistic means for Grandin to communicate her needs to others. Furthermore, when the device is re-tooled, it becomes the site of Grandin's self work. As I have argued, the device is not a means of neuro typical intervention, or even a form of rehabilitation, but instead an invention that allows for the autist's creative relation to other people, objects, and animals.


To this point I have focused on the squeeze machine as an instrument through which we might discuss the autist's sensory issues and the prosthetic extension of the body. In doing so, I have entertained two possibilities: the first is that Grandin's squeeze machine acts a form of rehabilitation. The second is that the machine does not rehabilitate the autist nor compensate for a social deficit, but rather acts as an extension of the body. Pushing the theoretical possibilities of the prosthesis as a form of bodily extension, in this article's final section I turn to the machine's supplementary quality by way of Jacques Derrida's concept of the supplement.

In Of Grammatology, Derrida introduces the supplement with respect to the supplementary quality of language. Borrowing the term from Rousseau, Derrida uses the "supplement" to describe the metonymic quality of language in which meaning is always dispersed and deferred. Here Derrida critiques Rousseau's assumption that writing is an addition or "a supplement to the spoken word," and the spoken word an originary and "noncontingent signifier" (7). As Derrida notes, writing is viewed as a "technics in the service of language, spokesman, interpreter of an originary speech itself shielded from interpretation" (8). Problematizing this idea of originary language, Derrida provides his own definition of the supplement as that which "adds only to replace" (145). According to Derrida, the supplement is by definition "an exterior addition" and yet he writes that "its place is assigned in the structure by a mark of an emptiness" (145). In other words, the supplement is a necessary foreign addition that is needed in so far as there is an originary lack, an absence within the structure of language itself.

While this complex term "supplement" has many implications for the discussion of grammatology, it likewise has relevance with respect to the prosthesis. As I argue, the prosthesis acts as a form of supplement. If the squeeze machine is to be described as a prosthetic device, like the supplement, it does not reveal an underlying autistic deficit, but rather an originary lack inherent to all bodies. The squeeze machine as a prosthetic device helps us consider the ways in which the human is constituted through its tools. In the words of Bernard Stiegler, what we come to realize is that "the prosthesis [in this case the squeeze machine] is not a mere extension of the human body; it is the constitution of this body qua 'human'" (152-153).

Earlier I noted that though the squeeze machine initially seems compensatory in nature, it becomes apparent that it is, in fact, a testament to the autist's capacity for agency. The machine is proof positive that the autist is self-reflexive, imaginative, and always already invested in social feeling. Grandin implicitly raises this point in her autobiography. There she confesses, "I realized that the chute ... was a product of my mind. The same feelings and thoughts I had in the chute could be had outside of it. The thoughts were creations of my mind--not of the squeeze chute ... The cattle chute was merely an amplifier and it was no more responsible for my thoughts than a record player was responsible for the music on the record" (Grandin and Scariano 110). As this quote suggests, the machine presents a complicated and dynamic relation between a subject and a prosthetic that is both supplementary and constitutive. To use Grandin's metaphor, the music is not possible without the record or the record player. As a consequence, Grandin's theorization of the squeeze machine is often ambiguous. Much like the prosthesis itself, Grandin slips between considering the machine as a means of replacement, augmentation, and as a generator for new affective possibilities.

While the machine provides a sense of the autist's need for mediation, it directs us to prosthetic mediation more generally and the larger question: what constitutes the human?

In order to more fully consider this issue of mediation amongst autists and neurotypicals, I'd like to turn to an additional and equally compelling narrative of prosthetic mediation, Kamran Nazeer's Send in the Idiots: Stories from the Other Side of Autism (2006). Here we see a similar expression of autistic agency through the use of a prosthetic object, but one that points to the neurotypical's own negotiation of the social sphere. Rather than an autobiography, Nazeer focuses on the coping mechanisms of three of his former classmates and fellow autists--a gifted pianist, a computer engineer, and a bike messenger. Particularly fascinating amongst these stories of life from "the other side of autism" is that of Andre, a computer engineer who uses puppets to communicate. Describing these puppets, Nazeer writes:

   Andre had found an unusual way of overcoming his difficulties with
   conversation. For several years, he had been training as a
   puppeteer. He made his own puppets with wood and string. He put on
   shows in his neighborhood. And his use of the puppets was
   expanding. When he spoke on the telephone, one of the puppets was
   usually in his lap.... The rule was that you couldn't interrupt one
   of his puppets. You could interrupt when Andre was talking--though
   there'd be a pause as he adjusted ... but you certainly couldn't
   talk across one of his puppets. (11)

Nazeer finds himself endlessly fascinated with Andre's use of the puppets. While the puppets have little to do with the sensory, as is the case with the squeeze machine, they lead to a similarly compelling discussion of mediation--in this instance the mediation of language. As Nazeer points out, language is difficult work for anyone, and autists especially. Nazeer writes that language is "a highly complex set of structures ... [and] Autistic individuals ... find the acquisition of language in any form very difficult. Conversation is harder still, for people say things in different ways; you need to comprehend tone and gestures as well as context and the words used in order to get to the meaning" (11).

Further complicating this discussion is Andre's job designing artificial vision for computers and robots. This project leads to much of the chapter's rumination over the differences between language and other means of communication. Whereas Andre sees vision as a static system, for instance, he tells Nazeer that the problem with language is its dynamism; "one word may have more than one meaning, or that you might convey a similar meaning in more than one way, each subtly different from the others" (qtd in Nazeer 22). Nazeer hypothesizes that the puppets allow Andre to better participate in these language games:

It seemed difficult for Andre ... to manage a dynamic system, that of language or conversation. And so, by using the puppets, perhaps he aimed to multiply the number of roles he could adopt instead. Rather than moving around using the system, which required a level of agility in using language that he didn't have, he had increased the number of places he could stand. (Nazeer 24)

In turn, the puppets come out not only when Andre wants to express multiple opinions, or when he feels socially awkward, but also when he wants to do difficult things with language, like be ironic.

While Andre's puppets allow him to navigate the unwieldy terrain of conversation, for Nazeer they become a fruitful study in sociability. As Nazeer suggests, the puppets are an explicit version of the kinds of performances we all partake in. He confesses, "I couldn't help feeling that Andre's puppetry was perfectly reasonable. Conversation has the quality of performance and Andre, unable to engage fully in conversation in the ordinary course of events made it into a more explicit sort of performance" (Nazeer 26). Nazeer recalls a series of his own conversations in which he was required to entertain others' perspectives, when he "flits between different points of view," or feigns interest (33). As he notes, there is a kind of ethics to performance. Made up of "a series of juxtapositions" (28), the best conversations are a "performance ... an event in itself," Nazeer writes (31). Unable to maintain this quality of performance on his own, Andre simply interacts with his puppets so that he might continue to engage others. However, Nazeer notes that the while the puppets serve this function, they also exceed his attempts to understand them. "The puppets, I had thought, were a coping mechanism. And yet [during a puppet show Nazeer realizes that] these same puppets were being used as a mode of expression. Something creative was being done with them" (43). Much like Grandin's squeeze machine, the puppets' use as a prosthetic device is decidedly ambiguous. In both instances, the prosthesis functions as a necessary technology for a performing self. The puppets are a supplementary, extra-bodily expression of Andres thoughts and yet they are, likewise, representative of an originary inauthenticity to not only conversation, but language as well.

As I argue, both Grandin's squeeze machine and Andres puppets express the autist's relationship to others, while deconstructing our very notions of subjectivity. Stuart Murray notes that autism has become part of cultural fascination, in part because it leads us to these larger questions regarding what we call the human. He writes, "The core questions of humanity and ontology that surround autism remind us that to think about the condition is necessarily to think about the issues of being human ... [autism] easily signifies possibly the most radical form of personal otherness. Indeed it is the personification of difference and otherness" (25). In the case of the squeeze machine or the puppet, the autist's interaction with technology reveals an even more radical notion of the subject; these accounts expose the subject as constituted by his or her relationship to the prosthesis. While theorists like Ian Hacking have pointed to the persistent trope of the autist as non-human, alien, or even changeling, it is perhaps the autist's relationship to that which is non-human that best reveals his or her humanity. Furthermore, it is by way of these prosthetic devices that we are able to move beyond problematic assumptions about what is "natural" or "neurotypical."

Notably, scholarship on prostheses has moved in precisely this direction. As theorists like David Wills, Bernard Stiegler, and Katherine Hayles note, the prosthetic does not offer a return to a unified or natural body; instead it disrupts the very conception of the body as an independent and unified form with inherent qualities. Breaking away from the continued formulation of the prosthetic as a foreign and non-human addition, Wills writes of the prosthetic relation as one of an internalized otherness. Along these lines, we are prompted to consider the prosthetic as a common form of relation found within "the natural." Prosthetic devices like the squeeze machine have the capacity to reveal the kinds of naturalistic claims that are made about the body and the mediated relations that we all partake in. Wills writes, "By means of prosthesis the relation to the other [in this case the autist] becomes precisely and necessarily a relation to otherness, the otherness, for example, of artificiality attached to or found within the natural.. . the prosthesis of necessity prostheticizes whatever it relates to by automatically inscribing its effect of otherness" (44).

In this vein, I argue that the prosthetic relation deconstructs the "natural" or "inherent" qualities of the neurotypical subject. The squeeze machine as sensory therapy not only suggests that emotional cues are socially scripted, but it also opens up a discussion of the subject's relation to her environment while calling upon the need to reconsider those suppositions of theory of mind. Upsetting claims of intuitive behavior and innate skills, the prosthetic is thus crucial, because it ultimately disrupts normative conceptions of the subject rather than confirms them, and all while revealing autists' dynamic relation to their surroundings.

Through a prosthetic notion of the subject we are able to move beyond a discussion of social deficit and recognize an embodied knowledge that we have yet to fully consider. The squeeze machine reveals that autism is not a singular deficit. On the contrary, as Donna Haraway points out in her discussion of prostheses, "organisms possess a heterogeneous set of mental tools, complexly and dynamically put together from genetic, developmental, and learning interactions throughout their lives, not unitary interiors that one either has or does not have" (Haraway 51).s In this respect, the squeeze machine as prosthesis opens up an important discussion of corporeality, subjectivity, and agency that moves beyond ablest conceptions of subjecthood. Rather than affirming our own idealist notions of neurotypicality or neurotypical relations, the prosthesis functions to expand the perimeters of the human. This turn to a prosthetic conception of the subject thus offers a counternarrative crucial to de-naturalizing neurotypicality. The squeeze machine not only testifies to the autist's neurosensory experience, but it also engenders a novel discussion of autism--one that need not end in a return to the neurotypical. This materialist account of the neurosensory exceeds discourse on autism as it renegotiates the terms of what it means to be a subject.

DOI 10.2979/jmodelite.39.4.11


(1.) Grandin created the machine when she was eighteen and has since developed it further from its prototype, the cattle chute. The chute's design has spawned such deep pressure apparatuses as squeeze vests, anthropomorphic hug machines, and has even inspired aesthetic yet functional squeeze chairs created by MIT professor and artist Wendy Jacobs

(2.) For more on "theory of mind," see Baron-Cohen, "Precursors to a theory of mind"; Baron-Cohen, Leslie, and Frith; and Frith and Happe.

(3.) Grandin's description of the "Google image search" is part of her 2006 revisions to Thinking in Pictures.

(4.) See Belmonte.

(5.) Haraway is referencing and paraphrasing Marc Hauser's Wild Minds: What Animals Really Think.

Works Cited

Armstrong, Tim. Modernism, Technology and the Body. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998. Print.

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Maria Almanza

Randolph College

Maria Almanza (anthro221@gmail.com) received her PhD in English from The State University of New York at Buffalo in May 2014. From 2014-2016 she was a visiting assistant professor at Randolph College, where she taught courses in English and American Studies. Her work on modernist literature and disability studies has appeared in Arizona Quarterly. The recipient of a Ford Foundation Dissertation Fellowship, she is currently working on her manuscript, "The Inconstant Body: Corporeality in the Twentieth Century." This project considers changing conceptions of personhood in transatlantic modernism.

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A465112471