by Tina Allen, LMT, CPMMT, CPMT, CIMT
Updated April 2016
The new statistic
The recently released survey by the CDC on children living with Autism in the U.S., has made quite the flurry online and in the press. The new statistic that raises the ratio from 1 in 80 children to 1 in 50, is alarming, but what is more alarming is the fact that many of these children may have been initially missed by the previous ratio. The CDC found more children above the age of 7 (above the age of normal diagnosis) which make account for the higher statistics. With the upcoming combination of what historically has been several types of Autism into one encompassing Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD, it creates a need for possibilities of treatment for the wide range of ages and symptoms with children diagnosed with ASD.
The Many Benefits that May Come from Using Massage
One treatment possibility that is not only low cost, but creates a stronger bond between child and parent, is massage. The many benefits that may come from using massage are: improving sleep patterns and sleep, improving time showing on-task behavior, improvement of parent child communication along with interaction and bond, decrease aversion to tactile stimulation, encourage positive social interaction, improvement of language function, motor skills, sensory function, general health, and showing on-task behavior. While these results vary on each individual child, there is a lot of scientific data to backup these benefits.
Improved Sleep Patterns
Sleeping is a monumental issue with children of all ages, and something that parents can attest to after a long night of walking their child back to their room! A study done introduced the use of Touch to several families with ASD children, not only did the parents feel more in control and closer after the Touch training was done, but also gained the perception by parents of the children as having improved sleep patterns, children were more relaxed after receiving the massage and appeared more open to touch1.
Children with autistic spectrum disorders (ASD), can often have trouble with attention behaviors which impact development of social interactions and relationships with others. Steve Solomons, assistant head teacher at Rectory Paddock School and Research Unit in the London Borough of Bromley, set out to explore these issues with the aim of his study to investigate whether aromatherapy massage could increase shared attention behaviors. Through the introduction of Aromatherapy massage, the children's responses were observed. The results indicate that the children's shared attention behaviors increased during aromatherapy massage and other positive behavioral changes2.
Multiple Studies Show Improvement with the Use of Massage
In another study, Standardized tests showed a decrease in autistic behaviors and increase in language development in all the children, as well as improvement in motor skills, sensory function and overall general health. All a result after the use of medical Qigong massage twice weekly from the physician, and daily Qigong massage from the parents for a five-week period, followed by daily parent massage for an additional four weeks3.
Multiple studies have shown that through the use of massage, children with ASD have seen improvements in wandering, more time showing on-task behavior, less time showing negative responses to being touched, and less time resisting the teacher than those in the control group4. Others reaffirm the use of massage as a way to improve social relatedness behavior during play observations at school, and fewer sleep problems at home5.
With all of the documented reasons why to start massaging, there are some considerations to keep in mind. Similar to any medical treatment, consultation and guidance of a healthcare provider is a necessity! Involving the child is also key, making sure to ask permission, adjust and adapt your massage strokes for your child, use care and caution, make eye contact during the massage and continue to use verbal and visual cues.
1. Cullen LA, Barlow JH, Cushway D.(2005) Positive touch, the implications for parents and their children with autism: an exploratory study. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 11(3):182-9.
2. Solomons, S. (2005) Using aromatherapy massage to increase shared attention behaviours in children with autistic spectrum disorders and severe learning difficulties, British Journal of Special Education, Volume 32 Issue 3, Pages 127 - 137
3. Silva LM, Schalock M, Ayres R, Bunse C, Budden S. Qigong massage treatment for sensory and self-regulation problems in young children with autism: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Occup Ther. 2009 Jul-Aug;63(4):423-32.
4. Hartshorn,K., Olds, L., Field, T., Delage, J., Cullen, C. and Escalona, A. (2001) Creative movement therapy benefits children with autism. Early Child and Development and Care,166,1-5.
5. Escalona, A., Field, T., Singer-Strunck, R., Cullen, C., & Hartshorn, K. (2001). Brief report: improvements in the behavior of children with autism following massage therapy. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 31, 513-516.
Massage may be a supportive therapy that can be readily applied, most effectively by specially trained massage therapists or by parents who have learned massage techniques from a skilled, educated massage therapist. Pediatric massage and nurturing touch are the most appropriate massage techniques to use in this population. When using massage therapy for children with cancer, your work does not need to be aggressive to achieve its maximum potential.
For more information visit Comprehensive Pediatric Massage Training Course (CPMT)
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