What is ASD?
Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD describes a group of complex related neurodevelopmental disorders. Some common symptoms of them include deficits in social communication and interaction, as well as repetitive behaviors, activities or interests. Children with ASD tend to show a special and focused interest in something (i.e. space, dinosaurs, an animal, etc.).
ASD is fairly common. It affects about 1 in 68 children in the United States. While there is no cure or drug to treat ASD, medical professionals and parents focus on alleviating symptoms. Some practices include modified diets, vitamin or herbal supplements, meditation and acupuncture.
ASD and Massage Therapy
However, more and more evidence supports the benefits of massage or “touch therapy” for people with ASD. This might be surprising since many people with ASD reject touch, especially from strangers. However, in general light touch tends to over stimulate and aggravate ASD patients, so moderate to deep pressure massage is preferred over a lighter touch. Massage therapy and touch therapy is also predictable, many ASD patients are bothered by unpredictable and sudden touches (i.e. rain, a gust of wind, bumping into someone).
When you are touched, neurons in your skin respond to different stimuli and activate different regions of your brain. When touched in a social or emotional way (known as affective touch) the insular cortex is activated, as well as other areas as well. This cortex is part of the limbic system which is responsible for processing emotions.
Touch therapy or massage has both immediate and long-term affects, including: decreased levels of cortisol (the stress hormone), and increased levels of serotonin and dopamine which play a role in mood regulation, movement, and impulse control. Some studies show that touch therapy can help with muscle spasms and social anxiety in ASD patients. It can further be beneficial to the linguistic and social abilities of ASD patients, especially when combined with other forms of therapy. Massage can also stimulate the vagus nerve, which affects other outputs of the body (i.e. the heart). This can in turn decrease heart rate which allows people with ASD to focus more and sleep better. Furthermore, it can decrease incidence of seizures, which are common in 1/3 patients with ASD.
How Storybook Can Help
While everyone loves a good massage, Storybook is here to help you with massage techniques for your child with ASD. Remember to always ask your child for permission before starting a massage. Consistency is key and with continued massages, your child is sure to show great improvements both in terms of sleep, stress levels, and more.
Source: “Research into our Sense of Touch Leads to New Treatments for Autism” (Emily Kuehn, Harvard University blog)