Massage as a Complementary Treatment Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

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Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) has long been a challenge for the medical community, including both researchers and physicians. For years, researchers have been exploring the many genetic and environmental factors that impact the development of ASD, and they have been working alongside physicians to try to find effective treatment strategies.

If you are a parent with a son or daughter who has been diagnosed with ASD, you probably know that the research findings on ways to treat ASD are mixed. There is no single “miracle pill” that cures the most debilitating symptoms of the disorder. And considering the many distinct ways that ASD can manifest in different people, that makes sense. The CDC estimates that 1 out of every 68 children has been diagnosed with ASD, but the symptoms and level of functioning can vary widely between individuals — hence the term “Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Considering the breadth of the autism spectrum, it is only logical that there is no single “ideal” treatment method that works for all patients.

Today, most parents who have a child with ASD build a “treatment team” of professionals with different areas of expertise who can help the child in different ways. If your son or daughter has been diagnosed, you may want to consider adding a massage therapist to your team. Read on to learn more about how massage can help relieve some of the symptoms of ASD.

Research on the Benefits of Massage Therapy for ASD

Massage is one of the most popular therapies in the field of complementary medicine. There is evidence that it can help with physical and mental health conditions ranging from cardiovascular disease to prenatal depression to ADHD. Given the many benefits of massage, it was only a matter of time before researchers began asking if it might serve as a beneficial complementary treatment for ASD. As expected, the results have varied widely. However, in 2011, researchers at the Korea Institute of Oriental Medicine sought to get a clearer picture of the efficacy of the treatment by just looking at the most rigorous, reliable studies that had been conducted: prospective controlled clinical studies of massage therapy for autistic patients. Thus, while they found 132 scientific studies relating to the topic of massage therapy and ASD, their analysis was limited to following six articles:

  • A randomized clinical trial that found that a combination of massage and conventional language therapy was significantly more effective at reducing symptom severity and improving communication attitudes than conventional therapy alone
  • Two randomized clinical trials that showed that massage provided statistically significant benefits for sensory profile, adaptive behavior, language abilities, and social abilities
  • A randomized clinical trial demonstrating that massage had positive impacts on social communication
  • Two randomized clinical trials that “suggested that massage therapy is effective”

Ultimately, the authors concluded that these research studies provided clear evidence that massage has the potential to benefit patients with ASD, but the risk of bias makes it impossible to draw concrete conclusions. More randomized clinical trials like these will need to be done, but in the meantime, this evidence suggests that you might want to give massage therapy a try. Based on the research, there is no guarantee that it will help your child, but there is a good chance, so you might as well give it a try!

Trying Thai Massage to Treat ASD

Given the wide range of massage modalities that are available, you might be wondering which one to try. The researchers who conducted the study described above included all types of massage in their search, which indicates that — once again — there is no single answer. You might have to try several options before finding one that is a good fit for your child.

When most people think about massage, they picture deep tissues massage, and some parents might worry that the pressure will be stressful for the child. If you’re looking for an alternative, you might want to think about Thai massage. Thai massage is much like a guided yoga session, in which the massage therapist guides the body through various poses. This may be relaxing for children with autism and help to reduce some of the symptoms.

For proof, you can look to a randomized control trial that was conducted in 2009 on 60 children with ASD. The children ranged in age from 3 to 10 years old. Half were provided with standard sensory integration therapy, while half were given the standard treatment plus 8 weeks of Thai massage. They evaluated the efficacy of the treatment based on parent questionnaires and reporting, which indicated that the complementary Thai massage therapy had statistically significant benefits for:

  • Anxiety
  • Conduct problem
  • Hyperactivity
  • Inattention / passivity
  • Sleeping behavior

Although the degree to which Thai massage helped with each of these issues varied, the researchers concluded that the findings “suggested that TTM” could be used as a complementary therapy for autistic children.”
If you are considering massage as a complementary therapy option to help treat your child’s ASD, Atlanta Chiropractic and Wellness can help. Contact us today for more information about our massage services!

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