Part One, “Understanding Autism,” was posted to www.massagemag.com on April 15.
Sleep is a significant issue with children of all ages, and maybe more so with children who have autism. It is reported between 56 percent and 83 percent of children with autism spectrum disorders experience sleep disturbances, including refusal to go to bed, getting out of bed, tantrums at bedtime, early waking, requiring a parent to sleep with the child and hyperactivity at night. One study introduced the use of touch to several families with autism spectrum disorder children. The parents felt more in control and closer after the touch training was done, and also gained perception of their children as having improved sleep patterns. Children were more relaxed after receiving the massage and appeared more open to touch, according to research.
Children with autism spectrum disorders can often have trouble with attention behaviors that impact social development. One study observed children’s responses to aromatherapy massage. Results indicated the children’s shared attention behaviors and other positive behavioral changes increased during aromatherapy massage
In another study, standardized tests showed a decrease in autistic behaviors and increase in language development in all the children, as well as improvement in motor skills, sensory function and general health following medical qigong massage twice weekly and daily qigong massage from parents for a five-week period. This was then followed by daily parent massage for another four weeks.
Studies have shown massage therapy can improve behaviors such as wandering, resistance to teachers, negative responses to touch and on-task behavior compared to those in a control group. Others reaffirm the use of massage therapy to improve social relatedness behavior during play observations at school, and reduce sleep-related problems at home.
Pediatric massage therapists working with children on the autism spectrum should be aware of the children’s possible anxiety about touch and susceptibility to sensory overload. This may stem from tactile hypersensitivities and previous touch being interpreted as painful or confusing. Therapists should move cautiously and respect the child’s cues. Take time to recognize a child’s likes and dislikes associated with types of touch, textures, sensory considerations and type of lubricant.
In addition to parental permission, we must also obtain the child’s permission. Children may not always provide direct eye-to-eye contact or a verbal “Yes.” Establishing nonverbal communication and using slow transitions are important. If a child does not prefer direct eye-to-eye contact, do not force it, as it may feel confrontational. All children require nurturing touch to thrive, and for those on the autism spectrum, specialized touch therapy is required. Using specialized touch and massage therapy, we may offer these children care and affection.
Learn more about Pediatric Massage and Massage for Autism: www.LiddleKidz.com.
Tina Allen, L.M.T., C.P.M.M.T., C.P.M.T., C.I.M.T, is the founder and director of the Liddle Kidz Foundation (www.LiddleKidz.com), and an authority on infant and pediatric massage therapy. She has written for MASSAGE Magazine on topics including “Connected Touch: A Hands-On Approach to Autism Spectrum Disorders” (February 2013) and “Pediatric Massage” (October 2012) and “Father-Baby Bonding: Infant Massage Builds Bridges that Last a Lifetime” (February 2014).