A 5-month, parent-delivered massage intervention has been proven in scientific studies over the past 9 years to lessen the severity of autism and improve sensory and self-regulation problems in preschool aged children with autism, according to a statement from Louisa Silva, MD, lead researcher, Teacher Research Institute at Western Oregon University, Salem, Ore.

Known as the Qigong (chee-gong) Sensory Training Home Program, and based on principles of Chinese medicine, research documenting its effectiveness has been published in Eastern and Western scientific journals, recently including the American Journal of Occupational Therapy.

In this intervention, parents are trained to give their child a daily, 15-minute massage that is tuned to their child’s particular physical reactions to touch on different parts of their body. Within a few months, the children relax, open up, and participate more in home and school life, and as sensory sensitivities disappear, behavior and tantrums improve, according to the statement. As key symptoms of autism disappear—eg, avoiding eye contact and not being curious about social encounters—social and language learning increases.

This program is equally effective in low-functioning as in high-functioning children, said Silva. By 5 months of treatment, data shows: parent stress decreased by 32%, autistic behavior decreased by 26%, sensory and self-regulation problems decreased by 28%, and overall autism decreased by 18%. Parents continuing the massage for another year or two, reported continued improvements in their children’s growth and development.

Research shows an impairment of sensory regulation underlies the developmental delays and abnormal behaviors seen in autism, Silva said, adding that the sooner that sensory problems can be addressed the sooner that development and behavior get back on track.

Thousands of years of experience with Qigong massage in China show that the younger the child is, the more effective it is, according to Silva. "That is why we strongly recommend it as a first-line early intervention as soon as a diagnosis of autism is suspected,”  Silva said.
“Through the last decade of working with parents, we have found that the success of this program depends on one main thing: the parents get the massage into the daily routine and keep it there for 5 months. With that, both parent and child relax and enjoy the time together."

Silva created the nonprofit Qigong Sensory Training Institute to coordinate treatment, training, and research for young children with autism.

Her goal is to make low-cost training available to parents of children with autism. Supporting her goal, she has released a new book, Helping Your Child with Autism, A Home Program from Chinese Medicine, ISBN-13: 978-0-9821280-0-8. The book includes an instructional DVD and is a step-by-step instructional for parents to treat their children at home.

“The particular form of Qigong massage that we recommend is called Qigong Sensory Training, or QST for short. It is one of hundreds of possible massage routines used by Chinese medicine to treat illness, and it is specific for autism and sensory problems”, said Silva.

[Source: Qigong Sensory Training Home Program]