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Massage Therapy and Parenting: Changing the Development of Autism

In our ongoing weekly round-up of news related to autism, we look at two emerging trends in autism treatment and therapy that indicate how massage therapy and how one interacts with a child with autism can have a significant impact on the development of autism in an individual.

Starting with parenting, there are currently ongoing studies occurring in Manchester, England and Atlanta, Georgia in which researchers and therapists alike are monitoring parents and children with autism to determine if everyday interactions between caregiver and child can shape the course of autism.

While the exchanges between a parent and child will shape the development of any child, they can have an especially significant effect in children with autism as these exchanges are where a child learns how to combine gestures and words to communicate her or his thoughts. In the case of children with autism, this process can go off the rails due to the difficulty children with autism have with communication.

For instance, an infant who avoids making eye contact, does not pay notice to faces, and does not respond to his or name being called limits the chances a parent has to engage with him or her. As a result, this lack of social interaction can reinforce the baby’s withdrawal from his or her environments that intensifies mild symptoms into a severe disorder.

While researchers are quick to insist that this theory does not fully explain how mild autism can evolve into severe autism, Gordon Ramsay of the Spoken Communication Laboratory in Atlanta points out that a common misconception about autism is that it exists solely in the child. Rather, Ramsay and his fellow researchers are placing a greater emphasis on studying the inter-personal element of autism and how actively engaging a child can mitigate symptoms of autism.

While the researchers above are looking at the way speech and sight can shape autism, a group of therapists in Oregon are analyzing the effect that touch has on the development of autism. As developed by Dr. Louisa Silva, her massage treatment designed for children with autism can lessen the severity of the disorder by a third in the first five months following diagnosis.

According to Silva, these findings are important because “there really are very, very few effective research-based treatments for low-functioning children.” This is due to the fact that most autism treatments necessitate a degree of language and ability to focus.

Silva’s method of treatments removes these speech and cognitive barriers by utilizing a 15-minute whole-body massage on a daily basis. The treatment is specifically designed for children under 6 years of age.

Silva’s research, which involved 103 preschoolers, found that overall autism severity decreased by 32 percent with noticeable improvements in behavior and language, with the greatest increases occurring with sensory problems and sensitivity to touch and texture.

Overall, Silva found that this massage treatment resulted in an all-around better relationship between child and parent, with the massages helping to form stronger bonds in terms of trust and awareness of one’s body.

As both of these studies are proving, when treating a child with autism, engaging them through all of the senses at a young age can play a crucial role in their development.