Is there any evidence to suggest that massage therapy and/or reflexology is beneficial for children affected with austism? One case study says “yes”.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is defined by the Mayo Clinic as “a serious neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others. It also includes restricted repetitive behaviors, interests and activities. These issues cause significant impairment in social, occupational and other areas of functioning.”
Children who have been diagnosed with autism commonly display anxiety and repressed motor skills. The impairment of motor skills is often linked to an underdeveloped or dysfunctional proprioceptive system. Proprioception refers to the body’s ability to sense movement within joints and joint position. It is important in all everyday movements but especially so in complicated sporting movements, where precise coordination is essential.
Case Study – Massage and Reflexology for Autism
As of now, there is very little clinical research on the ability of massage therapy to have a positive effect on proprioceptive dysfunction in autism. However, one short case study does give promise.
In the case study, a moderately functional 5-year-old autistic girl was given a series of eight 40-minute massage therapy sessions over a four-week period. At the onset of the case study, she had some proprioceptive dysfunction that impaired her ability to plan and perform gross motor skills. This dysfunction was delaying her physical developmental abilities. The bodywork sessions included Swedish massage, and foot reflexology targeting the reflex points relating to the nervous system.
Functional testing were given before and after the series of massages. These included balancing on one foot, jumping rope, back-and-forth ball bouncing, and ball dribbling. The effect of the bodywork was that she experienced a faster-than-normal rate of learning motor skills. She also displayed greater control over her posture, coordination, and use of force.
Because this study involved only one moderately-functioning subject, larger studies are needed to confirm a positive correlation between massage and reflexology in autistic children. Until then, if you are close to any autistic children or adults, massage and bodywork, including reflexology, may be worth pursuing.
(Based on a case study presented by Rachel Benbow, LMT, BA, MLIS at the 2016 International Massage Therapy Research Conference.)
Continuing Education Courses Available
The Institute of Somatic Therapy offers several massage therapy continuing education courses that might be beneficial for autistic children. We offer certification in infant massage, and continuing education in reflexology. We also offer courses on infant massage research and reflexology research. Institute of Somatic Therapy is approved by the NCBTMB as a continuing education approved provider. Our courses are valid for CEs in most states.