Researchers Tiffany Field, David Lasko, Peter Mundy, Tanja Henteleff, Susan Kabat, Susan Talpins, and Monica Dowling conducted a study on 22 preschool children with autism. They investigated the effects of touch therapy on problems commonly associated with autism, such as inattentiveness, touch aversion, and withdrawal. They found that orienting to irrelevant sounds and stereotypic behaviors decreased in both the touch therapy and the touch control group; however, orienting decreased more in the touch therapy group.
While such a small study is certainly not enough to draw any conclusions, it is an area that others have spend time researching. Tina Allen (of LiddleKidz.ca and internationally respected educator, lecturer, author and expert in the field of infant and pediatric massage therapy) writes "Research has demonstrated that this type of intervention (massage) may promote more on-task and social relatedness behavior during play, they 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."
The American massage therapy association has published studies on this field of research as well.
Massage therapy has shown promise as a complementary approach in helping individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). While it does not provide a cure for autism, it can offer numerous benefits that enhance overall well-being and quality of life for those with ASD.
One significant advantage of massage therapy is its ability to promote relaxation. Individuals with autism often experience heightened levels of stress, anxiety, and sensory sensitivities. Massage techniques, such as gentle touch and deep pressure, can help calm the nervous system, reduce anxiety, and provide a soothing environment. This can lead to improved mood, better sleep patterns, and increased ability to cope with daily challenges.
Additionally, massage therapy can address sensory integration difficulties commonly observed in individuals with autism. People with ASD may have difficulties processing sensory input, leading to sensory overload or sensory-seeking behaviors. Massage techniques can help regulate sensory input by providing tactile stimulation in a controlled and predictable manner. This can support sensory integration, improve body awareness, and enhance overall sensory processing abilities.
Moreover, massage therapy can foster social interaction and communication skills. Many individuals with autism struggle with social engagement and may have challenges with non-verbal communication. Massage sessions provide a structured and safe environment where trust and connection can be developed between the massage therapist and the client. This can help improve social skills, build trust, and enhance non-verbal communication cues.
It is crucial to note that each individual with autism is unique, and their response to massage therapy may vary. Therefore, it is important to work with qualified massage therapists experienced in working with individuals with ASD. They can tailor the massage sessions to suit the specific needs, preferences, and sensitivities of the individual.
In conclusion, while massage therapy cannot cure autism, it can provide valuable support for individuals with ASD. By promoting relaxation, addressing sensory integration challenges, and fostering social interaction, massage therapy can contribute to improved well-being and enhanced quality of life for individuals on the autism spectrum. It is essential to consult with healthcare professionals and experienced massage therapists to develop an individualized approach that best meets the specific needs of each person with autism.