WIDER APPLICATIONS OF MASSAGE THERAPY - PART 1
Massage and Autism
Massage complements many traditional and alternative health modalities to produce a sum that is greater than its individual parts in treatment outcome. This series will examine the role massage can play in contributing to overall wellbeing.
Whilst Massage therapy is never a cure, it can benefit both the body, the mind and the overall quality of life for clients. Autism is a lifelong condition affecting neural development with associated impaired social interaction, communication and restricted, repetitive behaviour or interests and sensory sensitivities.
There is much discussion around the causes of autism, however diagnosis is based on the behaviours observed in each child or case.
Symptoms are highly variable, however often become apparent within the first two to three years of life, with the neurological impacts resulting in difficulty processing information. Symptoms include limited use and understanding of non-verbal communication, difficulty building relationships, delayed language development and difficulty with conversation, repetitive use of language, repetitive behaviours and body movements, unusual sensory interests or sensory insensitivities.
Massage fulfils the most basic need for touch and can complement other treatment options to benefit sensory difficulties including motor and touch for those with this condition. Massage can relieve anxiety and aversion to touch, both of which are classic symptoms of autism.
The Massage Therapist should be aware that as these children may have limited verbal communication skills, it is vital to be attentive to non-verbal behavioural cues. Taking a slow, steady and consistent approach to treatment will reap rewards.
As with most clients, beginning with a light pressure and stroke and building to a deeper touch is a good method. Children may become more comfortable with physical contact through massage and this can also assist in reducing anxiety related to touch.
Many autistic children experience difficulty with regular sleep patterns and it is here that the relaxing properties of massage can contribute to better sleep.
Involving and teaching parents simple massage techniques that they can use will prolong the effects of massage between treatments and build a consistent massage experience for the child.
Next week we will look at how massage can complement Speech Therapy.