The world, as seen by each individual comprises a partial information. We know only what we feel, hear, see, smell and touch. Our observations and critical information that our senses every decision and move informs. Now imagine what the reality would be if you almost always felt distant and emotionally isolated. What if that feeling was so powerful that you can not even make eye contact with others. Beyond that, you would experience daily how different if your ability to learn and communicate was severely compromised? These challenges and many others are dealt with on a daily basis by a growing population of children with autism.
A new report from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlighted a 57% increase in the incidence of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) in 8-year-old children. The significant increase is based on a comparison of figures from just 4 years prior. ASD is defined as a developmental disorder that “atypical development in socialization, communication and behavior” has. (1)
At this moment there is no cure for ASD. However, several recent studies and some earlier studies show that massage therapy is a safe and useful therapy for reducing symptoms of ASD and improve the link between people with autism, their families and care providers.
A trial just published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine examined the effects of a traditional Thai massage in a group of 60 autistic children. The study lasted 8 weeks and young participants, aged 3 to 10. Half the children were treated with a therapeutic modality known as “standard sensory integration therapy” (SI) and the rest were given traditional Thai massage (TTM). Both parents and teachers rated the response to drugs by completing two standardized questionnaires: the Conners’ Rating Scales and a Sleep Diary. An inventory of symptoms was taken at the beginning and end of the trial period.
- Improvements were found in the children involved in both treatments in the following areas: behavioral problems, hyperactivity, inattention-passivity and sleep behavior.
- Those undergoing the Thai massage also reported a decrease in anxiety and “stereotyped behavior in autistic children.”
- The authors of the study concluded that “TTM can be used as adjunctive therapy for autistic children.” (2)
Another form of massage therapy that clinical success is exhibited in ASD Qigong massage. This diversity of physical therapy concerns the stimulation of pressure points, rolling and tapping techniques to supposedly support the flow of subtle energy known as “Qi”. According to Qigong practice, the massage therapist also directed to a healing intention to facilitate a more pronounced response. In other words, the actual pressure is only one aspect of this therapeutic approach.
A study in August 2009 performed at Western Oregon University discovered that five months worth of Qigong massage “significant classroom improvement of social and language skills and reducing autistic behavior in a group of 46 children with ASD produced. A separate survey of 13 young participants show improvements in the “sensory disability” and increased “basic living skills’ and ‘social skills’. Other promising findings included positive changes in bowel habits and sleep disorders. A study dating back to 2005 also supports the benefits of professionally administered “medical qigong” in addition to aging used massage therapy for autistic children under the age of six years. (3,4,5)
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention MMWR (link)
A fascinating British study from 2005 builds on the connection between parent-that massage and ASD symptoms. 14 parents participated in a home massage intervention. At the beginning of the experiment, “parents felt sad” and reported that they were “unable to ‘close’ to their children receive.” By the end of the 16-week study, the fathers and mothers reported a greater sense of “feel physically and emotionally closer to their children.” In a similar experiment parents also noted that massage therapy seemed to improve sleep, daytime relaxation to promote and otherwise helped their autistic children are “more susceptible to the touch.” In addition, a specific finding of the study was that both children and parents “giving and receiving touch therapy” contemporaries. Previous research substantiates these findings and adds that massages and “touch therapy” seems to improve “tolerance to touch” and helps parents in their ability to complete “routine tasks” with their autistic children who get involved (bathing, dressing, tying shoes, etc.). (6,7,8,9)
Massage therapy and therapeutic touch has been applied to many medical and psychological disorders that children, including drug-exposed children, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and even post-traumatic stress disorder affect. The general outcome usually means a decrease anxiety, reduce stress hormone levels and improvements in treatment results. There is evidence that the benefits even more profound if these therapies are applied by a lover, such as grandparent or parent who is properly trained and supervised. This observation is remarkable, because home-based massage is much less expensive than when it is offered in a medical setting. (10)
As hopeful as the research related to massage and autism, it is clear that more research is needed. This is shown by an experiment in 2006 that do not find positive results in the application of aromatherapy massages to 12 children with autism and mental retardation. Lavender oil was used as an important component in this experiment because previous research showed that its fragrant smell would in fact be a greater state of relaxation and improve sleep quality promotion. Unfortunately, these benefits do not appear in the 2006 study published in the respected journal Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (11,12,13)
It is very important to every ASS treatment protocol to formulate under the guidance of renowned professionals. The information now aims not necessarily enhance or replace conventional treatments, especially when it comes to positive results. My goal is simply to convey an additional option worth considering, in addition to a comprehensive protocol. What I like most about this massage / touch therapy is that it seems to be able to reach autistic children in a way that is often very elusive. Building a stronger, loving bond between people with ASD and people who love them is obviously of great importance. If you have a child with ASD or you know someone who does, please make sure they are aware of these complementary practice. I think it has the potential to greatly improve life.