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Massages are not just a special treat at a relaxing spa. Although this is always lovely (especially for stressed out parents!), massage therapy has also been used for years for various medical issues, and more and more parents swear that it helps their autistic children.
A common myth is that all children with autism don’t like to be touched. In fact, while a lot of children with autism dislike soft, light touches, they can be calmed down with a bear hug or weighted blanket. Through massage therapy children have been reported to be more social and attentive and less anxious after receiving appropriate massage therapy. Massages can also promote bonding, attachment and trust, and some can be done at any time!
There are different types of massage that may help your child with autism, and below, we will explore a few that may be especially effective. While some methods can be expensive or carried out by professionals, it doesn’t have to cost anything.
Deep pressure massage
Deep pressure massage seems to be the most popular form of massage for children and adults with autism. Just as it can relieve the stress of a busy mum or dad, it can be just as effective on their child.
A deep pressure massage involves firm, long strokes with flat palms and fingers as opposed to fingertips. Deep pressure can also be achieved through a simple hug or squeeze. The hug or squeeze doesn’t even have to be that tight – a little pressure can go a long way!
For children who don’t like deep pressure massage, hugs or squeezes, even a parent placing their hands on their child’s shoulders lightly can work. Pressure techniques work in the same way as weighted or compression clothing and blankets, and can really calm children’s anxiety.
Qigong massage is an ancient form of traditional Chinese medicine that has been modified to suit children with sensory problems, especially those with autism. The treatment has been made popular by the book, “Qigong Massage for your Child with Autism” by Dr Louisa Silva.
It is promoted as an easy to learn method for parents that consists of patting and pressing movements with a cupped hand over clothes and takes around 15 minutes to complete.
Dr Silva states that touch is incredibly important to young children with autism. She says that it works to open blocked channels, including digestion, and that by improving circulation, balance is restored. After around five months of massage, she affirms, children tend to be much less anxious, have better sleep and be more likely to communicate. Dr Silva’s book can be found here: www.amazon.co.uk/Qigong-Massage-Your-Child-Autism/dp/1848190700
Story massage is another popular choice with parents, as it is also a bonding experience with their child. Telling a simple story in combination with the movements of massage helps children relax, improves their touch tolerance, increases their concentration and improves sleep and ability to connect socially.
For children with communication difficulties, story massage can be given face to face. By combining words and massage strokes, the child’s ability to keep eye contact is meant to improve.
Parents can train themselves in story massage by following this link: https://www.storymassage.co.uk/training
Indian Head Massage
A lot of parents feel that the Indian head massage really helps their child with anxiety and helps them build confidence. The massage focuses on the upper back, neck and head has been known to help sleep, keep children calm and even improve their immune system.
Those who practice this form of massage believe that the head is a map of who we are and that the brain has specific areas for specific tasks. According to those who believe this, by massaging the head, these areas are stimulated and you can address specific issues.
Some parents are very committed to giving Indian head massages and there are books and training out there that can help you learn the basic techniques.
This book on Amazon, for instance, is one that has excellent reviews: www.amazon.co.uk/Indian-Massage-Special-Needs-Learn/dp/1848192754 .
Hand or foot massage
Many parents have found that even a simple hand or foot massage can create positive outcomes for their autistic children. Lots have said that these massages relax their children and help them to sleep better. In addition to this, a child can learn to give themselves hand massages from their parents doing so, and gain the ability to self-soothe.
No specific technique is needed when a parent is massaging their child’s hands or feet. It can be great to see what the child likes and go with the flow! If, however, a parent does not know where to even start, there are many free resources online such as this pictorial on hand massages: https://www.wikihow.com/Massage-Someone’s-Hand and this pictorial on foot massages: https://www.wikihow.com/Give-a-Foot-Massage
What to Remember
Like everything, massage therapy may not work for everyone.
The smells of massage creams or oils, being over- or under-sensitive to touch or not being able to see exactly what’s happening may just be too much. There is also no hard evidence to show the relationship between massage therapy and autism – only anecdotal evidence that is seems to work in combination with other interventions.
If you do choose to give it a go, remember to take your time, explain to your child what you are doing and ensure that they know that they can always tell you to change the pressure, the speed or to stop altogether.
It’s a good idea to encourage children to let you know what techniques they liked best by talking or using body language. You and your child should learn together what works and what doesn’t at different times and stages of their life – there are no therapies or interventions that work for every child with autism!
Other usual resources:
- Have you ever tried any massage techniques with your children?
Tweet us at @PetraEFdtn to let us know!
Petra Ecclestone is a Philanthropist and mother of three. She is founder and Director of the Petra Eccleston Foundation, providing services and support for young children with suspected or diagnosed autism and their families.
Copyright © 2019 The Brightest Star. Content curated by Petra Ecclestone