Qigong massage has been tied to a reduction in the severity of autism among children ages 6 and younger, according to recent research.
The study, “Qigong Massage Treatment for Sensory and Self-Regulation Problems in Young Children With Autism: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” involved 46 children with autism, between the ages of 3 and 6, who were eligible for early intervention services for autism.
The children, 37 boys and nine girls, were randomly assigned to either a Qigong Sensory Training group or a wait-list control group. The researchers define Qigong Sensory Training as a “qigong massage intervention based in Chinese medicine.”

Children assigned to this intervention received 20 sessions of Qigong Sensory Training during a five-month period, for a total of 10 hours of hands-on work from a professional practitioner. In addition, parents of the children in the intervention group were trained and instructed to provide the qigong massage to their kids every day for five months.

Baseline evaluations were conducted before the start of the five-month study period. Outcomes were measured immediately after the five-month study period, and long-term effects were evaluated five months later.

Researchers used the Pervasive Developmental Disorders Behavior Inventory, Teacher and Parent Versions, to measure social and language skills, as well as maladaptive behavior, in both the school and home settings. Teachers, blind to the study groups, filled out one version, while parents filled out another.

Parents also were asked to complete the Sense and Self-Regulation Checklist, which evaluates changes in sensory impairment, appetite, digestion and sleep.

The research revealed that children assigned to Qigong Sensory Training had significant classroom improvement of social and language skills, along with a reduction in autistic behavior, as reported by teachers and compared to kids in the wait-list control group. Data collected from parents confirmed these findings across the board.

“Results of blinded teacher data in this randomized controlled trial confirmed the hypothesis that the [Qigong Sensory Training] intervention reduces the severity of autism as measured by standardized tests of behavior and developmental abilities,” state the study’s authors.
“The [Sense and Self-Regulation Checklist] developed for this research showed a significant and large improvement in sensory and physiological systems in the treatment group that was not present in the control group,” they added. “The improvement was stable at 10 months, indicating that a lasting change in physiological state had occurred.”

Authors: Louisa M. T. Silva, Mark Schalock, Robert Ayres, Carol Bunse and Sarojini Budden.

Sources: Western Oregon University in Salem and Legacy Emmanuel Children’s Hospital in Portland, Oregon. Originally published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy (July/August 2009) 63(4): 423-432.

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