Study Shows Massage Helps Children with Autism


Research to Practice • Practice to Research

Study Shows Massage Helps Children with Autism

August 3, 2016

Photo of a mother embracing her son who is sitting on her lap.


If you are a parent of a child with autism, you probably struggle with the fear that you might never get to hug your child. Maybe you worry that your child will live a life devoid of physical affection and close attachments to others.

A new study shows that for many families, massage therapy can bring surprising results – and a new sense of hope.



One- And Two-year Outcomes of Treating Preschool Children with Autism with a Qigong Massage Protocol: An Observational Follow-along Study


In the first phase of the study, parent-delivered, sensory message brought dramatic improvements in four key areas, with improvements occurring across the spectrum of severity:

  • Autism severity reduced by 32 percent, resulting in improved behavior and language.
  • Parenting stress reduced by 44 percent.
  • Sensory problems improved by 38 percent; sensitivity to touch and texture improved by 49 percent.
  • Children became more affectionate with their families and more comfortable in social situations.


The observational follow-along study 


The observational follow-along study continued the massage protocol with 67 children for 12 months, and 31 of these children for a full two years. The results showed greater improvement as the months went on.

"At 12 and 24 months, mean tactile responses normalized by 57% and 72%, with 24% and 32% falling into the normal range; mean autism severity decreased by 27% and 44%, with 12% and 26% of children moving out of autistic range," reads the abstract of the published study published by Alternative and Integrative Medicine.


This specialized massage treatment, developed by Dr. Louisa Silva, is part of a federally funded autism study which is housed and managed at TRI.


Dr. Louisa Silva

“Children with autism suffer from sensory problems, especially touch. Nail cutting and haircuts, clothing fabrics and loud noises can be overwhelming for them,” Dr. Silva said.  “Parent-delivered massage works by helping normalize the sense of touch, and eventually the other senses.”



“I want to get this sensory treatment into parents’ hands,” she added. “It’s gentle, it’s helpful, and they desperately need it.”


Click here to read more about the study.


Click here to learn more about the Qigong Massage Protocol.


(Photo at top of mother and child by Tyra Murray of Grace Portraits)


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