It’s a myth that people with autism don’t like to be touched. In fact, the opposite can be true - massage may well be a lovely way to calm and soothe any autistic child - and de-stress an adult.
Although one aspect of life on the autistic spectrum is sensory malfunction which can mean an aversion to certain sights, sounds, smells or touch, many parents and massage therapists have found massage therapy has been enjoyed by children on the spectrum.
People with autism spectrum disorders often struggle with sensitivities to all sorts of sensory stimuli, and some even experience ‘pain amplification’, which is where their nerves ‘over report’ and so normal sensations can actually feel painful.
At the same time many people have also found that being massaged comforts autistic children – it can help them enjoy the power of touch, which we all need, and gives them the experience of being touched in a non-threatening way.
We All Need to Be Touched
Massage therapy is a safe way to meet a basic human need for safe, nurturing contact and it can have some amazing results. We all need the comfort of nurturing touch, and for anyone on the autism spectrum, specialized sessions of touch therapy and massage therapy could be the way forward.
Massage provides a positive experience of being touched. The Autism Society of America has said that the cost of an autistic child’s care over a lifetime could be reduced by up to two-thirds if massage and other early interventions are put in place, together with early diagnosis.
Making Medical Appointments Less Frightening
Severely autistic people can become withdrawn or confused when they are in unfamiliar surroundings like the doctor’s office, a dentist or hospital. Imagine how frightening this can be if you are a child and dealing with the stress of trying to take in new sensory information at the same time.
Massage alone won’t make an autistic person any less scared of what’s going to happen in the doctor’s waiting room, but it can introduce them to a different type of semi-clinical setting where they get to experience a pleasurable thing. This can in turn lead them to feel less frightened that a clinic, hospital or medical appointment will lead to something unpleasant.
It also reduces their anxiety and stress overall, making any unexpected change of routine and surroundings less traumatic.
Treating Every Child As An Individual
Finding a qualified pediatric massage therapist is vital to making sure that your autistic child gets a good, worthwhile massage. They will have to be patient enough to get to know them as an autistic person, understand their communication style and take into account that everyone on the autism spectrum is unique.
There are no set techniques guaranteed to work with people on the autism spectrum. Every therapy session will be different - even for the same client. The benefits of massage are so very worth it, though. We all need to be touched, and taking some of the fear away from sensory stimulation can be a great source of comfort throughout an autistic person’s life.