It seems counterintuitive to suggest that massage therapy, something that requires a lot of physical touch, could be beneficial for children who have autism. However, an interesting study reveals that massage therapy could be helpful for at least some children who have autism. It requires a well trained massage therapist, who has a good understanding about what kinds of physical contact children who are the autism spectrum tend to be adverse to.
Massage therapy is something that seems to be becoming more and more acceptable as a form of healing, or as a means to ease certain kinds of pain, both physical and mental. Many adults will choose to get a massage when they are on vacation, as a way to help them relax. There has been a recent upsurge in interest in having health insurance companies cover the cost of massage therapy treatments.
Children can also benefit from massage therapy. A study in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology found that children who have sickle cell disease can benefit from massage therapy. It helps to reduce their pain, as well as the depression that can come when a person has a chronic illness. The study also found that it helped these children with their anxiety.
Another study by the Touch Research Institute of Miami looked at twenty children who were between the ages of 3 and 6 years old. All of the children had autism. The children were split into two groups. One group received massage therapy from a trained massage therapist. The therapist taught the parents of the children in this group how to correctly massage their child, and asked that the parents preform this therapy fifteen minutes before bedtime each night, for a month.
The second group of parents was instructed to read Dr. Seuss stories to their children for fifteen minutes before bedtime each night for a month. I think the point was so that the children would have their attention focused on something pleasant right before bed, but this is just a guess.
When the study was over, it turned out that the children who were receiving massage therapy were preforming better than the children who were being being read to (and who didn’t have any massage therapy). The kids who had massage therapy were staying on task better at school, and showed more interest in social interaction during playtime. Parents of this group reported their kids were responding better to verbal cues, were sleeping better, and were calmer, overall. The parents also reported that their children had become more receptive to their parent’s touch, and sometimes were initiating that form of interaction.
In general, children who have autism are averse to light touches. However, they can tolerate touches that include a certain amount of pressure. A good massage therapist knows how to work with people in order to help that person build up a tolerance for touch.
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