Massage Therapy Beneficial for Children with 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 therapist who works with children are usually skilled at introducing touch and slowly building tolerance for it. Massage therapists know that it’s the light touch that is so aversive to these children and they actual tolerate deep massages quite 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.

The Touch Research Institute of Miami has conducted several studies on the effect of massage therapy for children on the autism spectrum and their results confirm what is anecdotally acknowledged – massage therapy can be of great benefit to children on the spectrum.

In one particularly interesting study, twenty children with autism ranging in age from 3 to 6 years were randomly assigned to massage therapy and reading attention control groups. Parents in the massage therapy group were trained by a massage therapist to massage their children for 15 minutes prior to bedtime every night for one month, while the parents of the attention control group read Dr. Seuss stories to their children on the same time schedule. Results showed that the children in the massage group stayed on task better at school and showed more social relatedness during playtime observations. Parents also reported that their children were more responsive to verbal cues, had an easier time with daily tasks, slept better and were generally calmer. 

Most poignantly, these children were more receptive to their parent’s touch and even initiated affection themselves. Scientists used to believe children with autism couldn’t bond with their parents. This theory has since been discarded and children with autism do indeed bond with parents, but sometimes just cannot show it. It is very encouraging to know that massages create a new avenue of expression and help bridge the worlds between a parent and child.

As always in examining alternative choices, consider them as ways to augment and enhance established medical protocols, not replace them. 

When my son with autism was finally released from the hospital after battling Crohn’s, massage therapy was instrumental in him regaining his health and vitality. Doctors were amazed at his progress at his first follow-up visit, proclaiming that he “looked and felt like a different person." I credit massage therapy with providing a boost of energy to his recovery. His cheeks were rosy, his eyes bright and his spirit was calm. Best of all, there was no risk and no gimmicks — just the ancient art of human touch.

8 Responses to Massage Therapy Beneficial for Children with Autism

  1. Massage Therapy is definitely beneficial to our 5 year old son. We address the tension in his muscles due to sensory processing dysfunctiion. His school Sensory Diet has beem implemented for 3 years: proprioceptive, tactile, vestibular senses are targeted.

  2. Definitely! at home and school. Sensory Diet targets vestibular,proprioceptive and tactile senses. His school has massaged him since he started nearly 3 years ago. Additional, he feels relief and releases in the Super Sonic Sensory! Consider Sernsory Processing Integration like our Child Development Specialist recommended once our son was evaluated/assessed as having Sensory Processing Dysfunction.

  3. Susan says:

    thanks for adding the sensory processing angle..Susan Moffitt

  4. Heather says:

    I’m glad that you had some success using massage with your child. I’ve found that doing CranioSacral therapy and change of diet have really helped my son. His meltdowns are less frequent and his attention span has increased.

  5. Angela Lynch says:

    I massage Addison ,deep pressure and stretching…it does wonders! My nephew is 4. Need more info on CranioSacral therapy. Thanks!

  6. Maria says:

    Hi there! I am currently a student in a local massage therapy program set to graduate in December. I am interested in working with autistic children and special needs children. What I wonder is 1.) Is their a market for therapists in this field if parents are doing it themselves? 2.) Can I start right after graduation or do I need further schooling? If I need more classes, what can I do to earn income doing massage in this feild until I have the additional classes? and 3.) Are there employers for this type of massage or am I needing to go into business for myself? Thank you!—-Maria

  7. Susan says:

    I can’t specifically address your questions, but in general I can tell you my reaction. You’d want to educate yourself in autism in general, for sure, and what you can expect in addressing the needs of an autistic child. If parents are doing the massage themselves, they are still needing to be taught how to do it so that they can take over. And older autistic kids won’t want their parents giving the massage. At age 13 my son regularly went to a massage therapist and it was an awesome experience for him. Good luck.

  8. sr. miriam says:

    my nephew is 8 plus now . he is blind and autistic. he has no mother. he likes very much when we rub our face against his armpit and also when we touch his neck with lips. i want to know how to massage him with an electric massager which we have at home. sometimes after massaging he is too restless like. is it ok to massage his head with it. thanks
    his aunt
    sr. miriam

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Did You Know?

  • * In 1970, Autism affected 1 out of 10,000 children
  • * Autism now affects 1 out of 88 children
  • * Autism affects 1 in 54 boys
  • * 1.7 million Americans have some form of autism
  • * 4 out of 5 autistic children are boys

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