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Can Massage Help Autism

Parents of children with autism are always seeking ways to enhance the quality of life for their children and massage therapy is becoming an increasingly popular way of doing so. 

One would think that a child with autism, who is commonly averse to touch, would find massage therapy intolerable. However, a massage chairs are usually skilled at introducing touch and slowly building tolerance for it.  It’s the light touch that is so averse to these children and they actual tolerate deep massages well.

The health benefits of massages are well-documented to the point where they are covered by many insurance companies and prescribed as supplemental therapy by some medical doctors. Biochemically, body massages release serotonin, a neurotransmitting chemical known for giving a sense of well-being and happiness. Conversely, abnormal serotonin synthesis is said to be linked to autism.

Autism, also known as Kanner’s Syndrome, refers to a condition that is one of several of Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD). It is characterized by early onset of a lack of attachment, the failure to cuddle as an infant, and an almost complete disassociation with the environment. Children and adults display varying degrees of tactile (Fr. Tangere, to touch) defensive, (attitude or position of defending against attack) behaviors. A person who withdraws when touched, displays aggressive behaviors, or even refuses to eat certain foods because of their textures manifests this dysfunction of the tactile system.

It is the lighter touch that is over-stimulating to these individuals; therefore, deeper massage techniques, as well as joint compression, are in order. Symptoms include poor language skills, distractibility, hyperactivity, and the inability to accept changes in their environment, which may result in frustration, aggression, or complete withdrawal.

Usually diagnosed by the age of three years, Autism is a complex developmental condition, which affects a child’s ability to develop normal language, form relationships with others and respond appropriately to the environment. Autism is also characterized by early onset of a lack of attachment, the failure to cuddle as an infant, and an almost complete disassociation with the environment. Autism, as we now know it, is incurable and the behaviors associated with the disorder persist throughout the child’s lifetime.

The lack of communication between parent and child is one of the most heart wrenching effects of this condition. An autistic child typically does not express any words of love, share hugs or show any facial expression in response to pleasure. However, by the parent providing the massage via the chair, this could stimulate a positive relationship with a positive response.It has been long believed that an autistic child is incapable of forming attachment. However, research has concluded that these children do attach to their parents, but still remain incapable of acting on this attachment or responding appropriately.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, as many as half of all autistic individuals remain mute throughout their life. For those who do develop verbal language, some use it in odd ways, repeating what they hear, using single words or failing to structure complete sentences. The autistic child lacks the ability to make requests for his needs or to respond appropriately to his environment.

Many autistic children have sensory malfunction and dysfunction of the tactile system making them averse to certain sights, sounds, smells or touch. Given that autistic children have been reported to be opposed to physical contact, it is interesting that many massage therapists, and parents, are finding great success in the use of massage therapy with autistic children.

Research has found that these children show less autistic behavior, are more social and attentive after receiving massage therapy. This safe, nurturing touch and regular sensory integration is beneficial in reducing inattentiveness, touch aversion and withdrawal.

Many children with autism have problems establishing a regular sleep pattern and in remaining asleep through the night. The relaxing benefits of massage and touch therapy contribute to more restful sleep, including less sleep disruption and longer sleep duration.

Through the use of massage therapy, our basic human need for safe, nurturing contact is met with often wonderful results. For children with autism, it provides not only a positive experience of being touched, but the effects hold lifelong benefits.

We cannot guarantee you that our chairs will work for your child, however it appears that children with autism have everything to gain from massage therapy. Massage meets the basic human need for contact or touch often assumed to be absent in people who have autism. It provides them with positive experiences with being touched and touching. In most cases, the therapist is not required to use special or different massage techniques. What is required is to recognize that people with autism need this treatment, too.

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