To complement the MASSAGE Magazine article, “Connected Touch: A Hands-On Approach to Autism Spectrum Disorders,” by Tina Allen, in the February 2013 issue. Article summary: Pediatric massage provides a positive experience of being touched, and the effects hold lifelong benefits. The cost of an autistic child’s lifelong care can be reduced by as much as two-thirds, when early diagnosis and appropriate interventions are put in place, according to the Autism Society of America.

by Tina Allen

Nicole is a beautiful young woman with a smile that can light up any room. She is living with Rett syndrome, a neural developmental disorder on the autism spectrum that causes problems with cognition, emotions, sensory systems, autonomic and motor functions.

“Massage warms her muscles and connecting tissues to help relieve some of the discomfort caused by immobility,” says Nicole’s mother, Wende Lancaster, a massage therapist. “Working her muscles helps Nicole relax thoroughly, increases her circulation, aides her hypotonia and gastrointestinal issues.”

Many children with autism-spectrum disorders have problems establishing a regular sleep pattern and in remaining asleep throughout the night. Touch therapy contributes to more restful sleep, including less sleep disruption and longer sleep duration.

“Massage therapy is very helpful for our patients with autism-spectrum disorders, sometimes uniquely so,” says Dustin P. Wallace, Ph.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at the Integrative Pain Management Clinic and Division of Developmental and Behavioral Sciences at The Children’s Mercy Hospitals and Clinics in Kansas City, Missouri.

“Many of the conditions we treat involve pain amplification, which is when nerves “over-report” and even normal sensations can feel painful,” he adds.

Children on the autism spectrum frequently appear anxious due to various reasons, including communication delays and sensory sensitivities. This anxiety and stress seems to be contagious within the family, leading parents and siblings to have anxiety or nervousness when interacting with the child on the spectrum.

Published studies suggest massage therapy may decrease cortisol levels and increase oxytocin levels, which directly correlate to decreased stress, anxiety and nervousness.

Over time, children who receive massage become more spatially aware and have better body awareness. Safe, nurturing touch, along with regular sensory integration, is beneficial in reducing inattentiveness, touch aversion and withdrawal.

Tina Allen is the founder and director of the Liddle Kidz Foundation. She is an international author, lecturer and authority on infant and pediatric massage therapy. Allen travels in a tour bus 365 days a year teaching courses internationally, and is the proud mother of Otis. Contact her at www.LiddleKidz.com.

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