Massage Therapy for Autistic Children

The Touch Research Institute’s Results
By Shirley Vanderbilt

Originally published in Massage & Bodywork magazine, February/March 2003. Copyright 2003. Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. All rights reserved.

Autism is on the rise, and with it comes more heartache for parents and higher costs for the school system. Statistics from a 1999 state report from California showed a nearly 300 percent increase in cases reported from 1987 to 1998.1 Researchers estimate as many as one in 200 children are affected by the disorder.2

Editor’s note: Since this article was originally published, a study in the Archives of General Psychiatry (September 2006) revealed that babies born to men between the ages of 40 and 49 are nearly six times more likely to develop autism than children born to men under 30, regardless of the mother’s age.

Researchers are scrambling to uncover causes and put a halt to this increase, along with addressing the symptoms of autism, including abnormal response to sensory stimuli, limited attention span, excessive off-task behavior and touch aversion.3

Autism is a brain disorder, usually diagnosed by age 2, in which the child fails to develop language and normal social interaction skills. Withdrawal from social contact and aberrant behavior are common. Within the classroom, educators have used behavior modification, structured settings and social skills conditioning with minimal effect. And in the home, some parents have tried the gamut of treatments, conventional and alternative, in an attempt to restore what many experts postulate may be a permanently damaged brain. Moderate success has been achieved with vitamin B6 supplements, sometimes resulting in improvement in speech, behavior and physiological measures.4

Clinical trials have also shown massage therapy as a viable complementary treatment positively impacting some of the characteristic behaviors of autism. Two important studies have emerged in this area within the past few years, both from the Touch Research Institute (TRI) in Miami, Fla.

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