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Autism Massage Therapy

December 27, 2009 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

The world as viewed by each individual is comprised of partial information. We only know what we feel, hear, see, smell and touch. Our observations and senses provide critical information that informs our every decision and move. Now imagine what your reality would be like if you almost always felt distant and emotionally isolated. What if that feeling was so powerful that you couldn’t even make eye contact with others. Beyond that, how would your daily experience be different if your capacity 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 presented by the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention highlights a 57% rise in the number of cases of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) in 8 year old children. The noted increase is based on a comparison of figures from just 4 years prior. ASD is defined as a developmental disability that features “atypical development in socialization, communication, and behavior”. (1)

At present, there is no cure for ASD. However, a few recent studies and several older trials indicate that massage therapy may be a safe and useful therapy for reducing ASD symptoms and improving the connection between those with autism, their families and health 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 for 8 weeks and involved young participants with ages ranging from 3 to 10. Half of the children were treated with a therapeutic modality known as “standard sensory integration therapy” (SI) and the remainder were administered traditional Thai massage (TTM). Both parents and teachers rated the response to the respective therapies 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 engaging in both treatments in the following areas: conduct problems, hyperactivity, inattention-passivity and sleeping behavior.
  • Those undergoing the Thai massage additionally reported a decline in anxiety and “stereotypical behaviors in autistic children”.
  • The authors of the trial concluded that “TTM could be used as a complementary therapy for autistic children”. (2)

Another form of massage therapy that has exhibited clinical success in ASD is Qigong massage. This variety of physical therapy involves the stimulation of pressure points, rolling techniques and tapping to supposedly support the flow of a subtle energy known as “Qi”. According to Qigong practitioners, the massage therapist should also focus on a healing intention in order to facilitate a more pronounced response. In other words, the actual touch is but one aspect of this therapeutic approach.

A study from August 2009 conducted at Western Oregon University found that 5 month’s worth of Qigong massage produced “significant classroom improvement of social and language skills and reductions in autistic behavior” in a group of 46 children with ASD. A separate study involving 13 young participants demonstrated improvements in “sensory impairment” and increased “basic living skills” and “social skills”. Other promising findings included positive changes in bowel and sleep abnormalities. A study dating back to 2005 further supports the benefits of professionally administered “medical Qigong” in addition to parent applied massage therapy in autistic children under the age of six. (3,4,5)

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention MMWR (link)

A fascinating English study from 2005 builds upon the connection between parent-provided massage and ASD symptoms. 14 parents took part in an at home massage intervention. At the start of the experiment, “parents felt distressed” and reported that they were “unable to get ‘close’ to their children”. By the end of the 16 week trial, the fathers and mothers reported a greater sense of “feeling physically and emotionally closer to their children”. In a similar experiment parents also noted that massage therapy appeared to improve sleep, promote daytime relaxation and otherwise helped their autistic children to be “more amenable to touch”. In addition, a specific finding of the study was that both children and parents enjoyed “giving and receiving touch therapy”. Earlier research substantiates these findings and adds that massage and “touch therapy” appears to enhance “tolerance to touch” and assists parents in their ability to complete “routine tasks” with their autistic children that involve touching (bathing, dressing, tying shoes, etc.). (6,7,8,9)

Massage therapy and therapeutic touch has been applied to numerous medical and psychological conditions that affect children including drug-exposed infants, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and even post-traumatic stress disorder. The general outcome typically involves a decline in anxious feelings, a reduction in stress hormone levels and improvements in treatment outcomes. Some evidence suggests that the benefits are even more profound if said therapies are applied by a loved one such as grandparent or parent who is adequately supervised and trained. This observation is also noteworthy because home-based massage is much less expensive than when it’s provided in a medical setting. (10)

As hopeful as the research relating to massage and autism is, it’s clear that more study is required. This is evidenced by an experiment from 2006 that did not find positive results when applying aromatherapy massage to 12 children with autism and learning disabilities. Lavender oil was used as a key component in that experiment because prior research indicated that its fragrant scent could, in fact, promote a greater state of relaxation and an improvement in sleep quality. Unfortunately, these benefits were not displayed in the 2006 study published in the well-respected journal Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. (11,12,13)

It’s very important to formulate any ASD treatment protocol under the supervision of reputable health practitioners. The information provided today isn’t intended to necessarily augment nor replace conventional treatments, especially if it’s yielding positive results. My goal is simply to convey an additional option that may be worth considering as an adjunct to a comprehensive protocol. What I like best about this massage/touch therapy is that it appears to be able to reach autistic children in a way that is often quite elusive. Building a stronger, loving bond between those with ASD and the 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’re aware of this complementary practice. I believe it has the potential to greatly improve lives.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

Be well!


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Posted in Alternative Therapies, Mental Health

9 Comments & Updates to “Autism Massage Therapy”

  1. Grace Barrett Says:

    Useful info. Please send me a link for Montreal, Quebec
    where I could follow Massage Therapy – Qijong etc. THANKS

  2. JP Says:


    You may be able to find a practitioner via this site:


    Be well!


  3. geraldine Says:

    do you think i can try this qigong theraphy on my own.i had a 10 yr old son who was diagnose w/ autism when he was four.how many times do i have to perform the massage in one day

  4. JP Says:

    Hi, Geraldine.

    At least one study indicates that this is possible. In the study linked below, parents were taught how to provide daily Qigong massage to their autistic children in addition to weekly professional training.


    It may be useful to seek out a Qigong practitioner in your area that has experience working with autistic children. I don’t know how easy this will be to find. However, if you successfully find such a person, they may be able to teach you the most applicable techniques for your son.


    Be well!


  5. Ana Maria Says:

    Here is one of the Qigong studies. In this one, parents performed the massage one time per day for 15 minutes, but a more recent study showed that they did it twice/ day. It’s in you tube. There is a specific sequence and a specific stroke for the different areas. I agree that after learning about it you should ask a practitioner to teach you. I am a special education teacher and I will be getiing my massage license in a couple of months. I have been doing research on the topic.
    Silva, L.M., Schalock, M., Ayres, R., Bunse, C., Budden, S. (2009). Qigong massage treatment for sensory and self-regulation problems in young children with autism: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Occup Ther. 63(4):423-32.

  6. JP Says:

    Many thanks, Ana Maria! I apologize for my delayed reply!

    Be well!


  7. JP Says:

    Update: NAC, a nutritional supplement, acts as a valuable adjunct to conventional care for autistic children …


    Clin Neuropharmacol. 2015 Jan-Feb;38(1):11-7.

    N-acetylcysteine as an adjunctive therapy to risperidone for treatment of irritability in autism: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial of efficacy and safety.

    OBJECTIVES: According to the proposed interference of N-acetylcysteine (NAC) with pathophysiologic processes of autistic disorders (ADs), we aimed to assess the effectiveness and safety of NAC as an adjunct to risperidone in the treatment of ADs in a randomized, double-blind, clinical trial.

    METHODS: The participants were referred outpatients between 4 and 12 years of age with the diagnosis of ADs and a score of more than 12 on Aberrant Behavior Checklist-Community (ABC-C) Irritability subscale score. The participants were randomized into 2 groups. One group received risperidone plus NAC, and the other group received risperidone plus placebo. The dose of risperidone was titrated between 1 and 2.0 mg/d, and the dose of NAC was 600 to 900 mg/d. The main outcome was mean decrease in the ABC-C irritability subscale score from baseline at 5 and 10 weeks. Changes in other subscales were considered as secondary outcome measures.

    RESULTS: Forty patients completed the 10-week trial. Baseline characteristics including age, sex and body weight, as well as baseline scores in 5 subscales did not demonstrate statistically significant difference between the 2 groups. Repeated-measures analysis showed significant effect for time × treatment interaction in irritability (P = 0.01) and hyperactivity/noncompliance (P = 0.02) subscales. By week 10, the NAC group showed significantly more reduction in irritability (P = 0.02) and hyperactivity/noncompliance (P = 0.01) subscales scores.

    CONCLUSIONS: N-acetylcysteine can be considered as an adjuvant therapy for ADs with beneficial therapeutic outcomes.

    Be well!


  8. JP Says:

    Updated 06/26/16:


    Nutrients. 2016 Jun 7;8(6).

    Efficacy of Folic Acid Supplementation in Autistic Children Participating in Structured Teaching: An Open-Label Trial.

    Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are recognized as a major public health issue. Here, we evaluated the effects of folic acid intervention on methylation cycles and oxidative stress in autistic children enrolled in structured teaching. Sixty-six autistic children enrolled in this open-label trial and participated in three months of structured teaching. Forty-four children were treated with 400 μg folic acid (two times/daily) for a period of three months during their structured teaching (intervention group), while the remaining 22 children were not given any supplement for the duration of the study (control group). The Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist (ATEC) and Psychoeducational Profile-third edition (PEP-3) were measured at the beginning and end of the treatment period. Folic acid, homocysteine, and glutathione metabolism in plasma were measured before and after treatment in 29 autistic children randomly selected from the intervention group and were compared with 29 age-matched unaffected children (typical developmental group). The results illustrated folic acid intervention improved autism symptoms towards sociability, cognitive verbal/preverbal, receptive language, and affective expression and communication. Furthermore, this treatment also improved the concentrations of folic acid, homocysteine, and normalized glutathione redox metabolism. Folic acid supplementation may have a certain role in the treatment of children with autism.

    Be well!


  9. JP Says:

    Updated 05/30/17:


    J Clin Diagn Res. 2017 Mar;11(3):VC01-VC06.

    Efficacy of Structured Yoga Intervention for Sleep, Gastrointestinal and Behaviour Problems of ASD Children: An Exploratory Study.

    INTRODUCTION: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neuro developmental disorder which appears at early childhood age between 18 and 36 months. Apart from behaviour problems ASD children also suffer from sleep and Gastrointestinal (GI) problems. Major behaviour problems of ASD children are lack of social communication and interaction, less attention span, repetitive and restrictive behaviour, lack of eye to eye contact, aggressive and self-injurious behaviours, sensory integration problems, motor problems, deficiency in academic activities, anxiety and depression etc. Our hypothesis is that structured yoga intervention will brings significant changes in the problems of ASD children.

    AIM: The aim of this study was to find out efficacy of structured yoga intervention for sleep problems, gastrointestinal problems and behaviour problems of ASD children.

    MATERIALS AND METHODS: It was an exploratory study with pre-test and post-test control design. Three sets of questionnaires having 61 questions developed by researchers were used to collect data pre and post yoga intervention. Questionnaires were based on three problematic areas of ASD children as mentioned above and were administered to parents by teachers under the supervision of researcher and clinical psychologists. Experimental group was given yoga intervention for a period of 90 days and control group continued with school curriculum.

    RESULTS: Both children and parents participated in this intervention. Significant changes were seen post yoga intervention in three areas of problems as mentioned above. Statistical analysis also showed significance value of 0.001 in the result.

    CONCLUSION: Structured yoga intervention can be conducted for a large group of ASD children with parent’s involvement. Yoga can be used as alternative therapy to reduce the severity of symptoms of ASD children.

    Be well!


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