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> Home > Articles by Tina Allen > What is Autism?

What is Autism?

by Tina Allen, LMT, CPMMT, CPMT, CIMT
Updated April 2016

So, what is Autism?

According to the Autism Research Institute, Autism is a severe developmental disorder that begins at birth or within the first two-and-a-half years of life. Most autistic children are perfectly normal in appearance, but spend their time engaged in puzzling and disturbing behaviors which are markedly different from those of typical children. Less severe cases may be diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) or with Asperger's Syndrome (these children typically have normal speech, but they have many "autistic" social and behavioral problems).



1 in 110 children are diagnosed with Autism

Autism, ADD, ADHD, PDD, NLD, and Asperger's Syndrome were once either unknown or very rare. In 1980, autism diagnoses alone were 1 in 5,000; the most current data from the CDC says it's 1 in 110 children.   Boys appear to be affected four times as much as girls, the rate could be as high as 1 in 70.   There are many theories, however no one can say exactly what causes autism and its related disorders, including Asperger's Syndrome, an autism- like condition usually without language delay, and various Pervasive Development Disorders (PDDs).


Autism spectrum disorders

Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) interfere with normal development of the brain in the areas that influence reasoning, social interaction, motor skills, communication skills, and attention. Children with autism spectrum disorders are typically deficient in verbal and nonverbal communication, social interaction, and play activities.

Developmental disorders occur across a spectrum, affecting individuals differently; some children lose the ability to speak, some might have motor impairment, and many lack social and emotional awareness. Behaviors range from hyperactivity to serious self-injury. Families and healthcare professionals often report that children may show lack of eye contact, as well as, have an aversion to touch and tactile stimulation.  These disorders make it difficult for children with ASD to communicate with others, leading to frustrated social isolation.  If left untreated, children do not develop the skills they need to become a fully functioning part of society.

Massage Therapy and Autism

For children with Autism, research has been published indicating that massage may provide relaxation, stress reduction and calm muscle spasms.  Research has also demonstrated that this type of intervention may promote more on-task and social relatedness behavior during play, children with ASD show less erratic behavior, and are more attentive after receiving massage therapy.  This safe, nurturing touch, along with regular sensory integration, is beneficial in reducing inattentiveness, touch aversion and withdrawal.

Over time, touch therapy also helps the child to become more accustomed to tactile stimulation and aides in body awareness.  Often by incorporating massage therapy into daily routines, children with Autism experience decreased issues with sleeping.


Benefits for both children and caregivers

Massage therapy should only be performed by a specially trained pediatric massage therapist who has had training massage techniques, nurturing touch techniques, tactile introduction, sensory stimulation & integration designed for children on the spectrum.  The pediatric massage therapist’s training should also include benefits for both children and caregivers, current research and the importance of communication and attachment in building healthy emotional relationships.  The therapist should have the ability to employ various methods of specific unique verbal and nonverbal communication, including the use of Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) when providing massage therapy.

Together with the skills of a properly trained pediatric massage therapist, children with Autism and their healthcare providers may truly see the wondrous and long lasting benefits of nurturing touch.



Pediatric Massage for Autism (ASD)

Pediatric Massage for autism (ASD) requires specific skills to adapt massage and nurturing touch techniques suited for the child’s specific condition(s), treatment and treatment plan.

Healthcare professionals including massage therapists who wish to provide massage for pediatric patients with autism should consider specific specialized training in this area. The comprehensive Touch Therapy for Liddle Kidz with Autism (ASD) for massage therapists and healthcare professionals provides educational and professional training to those who wish to enhance their skills. Through this advanced pediatric massage training, participants will learn massage for pediatric clients with autism, and other diagnoses found on the autism spectrum, massage techniques, nurturing touch techniques, and information about the most common types of childhood diagnoses related to autism spectrum disorders including autism, aspergers syndrome,  retts disorder, pervasive developmental disorder and childhood disintegrative disorder.

Massage therapy may not ultimately cure autism, but this nurturing touch may provide some of the most beneficial and therapeutic touch in the child’s treatment plan.



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Specially trained Certified Pediatric Massage Therapists

lkf-cpmt-logo-144pxMassage 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)




For more information visit: Advanced Specialized Pediatric  Massage Training for Autism




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