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Autism causes impediments for children with the disorder that they carry as obstacles to overcome for their entire lives. Major characteristics of autism include social delays such as inhibited interaction with others, touch aversion, as well as abnormal intake of sensory information, with understated reactions or high sensitivity to external stimuli. As a result of the many inhibitions the disorder places on afflicted individuals, day-to-day life can be a struggle. The prevalence of autism spectrum disorder is increasing in the United States and the world, and the publication of the DSM-IV has broadened the definition of autism to include forms of varying severity including Asperger syndrome and Rett syndrome. As the influence of autism grows, a greater number of treatments including medicine as well as alternative methods are considered. The objective of this research project was to determine what effects touch therapy has on children with autism spectrum disorder between the ages of 2 and 16. To accomplish this, I surveyed various studies regarding different massage methods and measures of effects on autistic children. Articles examined included: a study that assessed the level of reactiveness children expressed prior to, and after, receiving various forms of therapy, multiple studies assessing the effectiveness of different forms of massage developed by researchers in improving attentiveness of autistic children in school settings, studies which looked at the effect of massage therapy in decreasing anxiety often expressed in autistic children, studies that assessed the impact of massage therapy on the communicative abilities of autistic children as well as examined the relationship between autistic children and their parents, and a meta-analysis which reviewed the validity of other studies regarding massage therapy and its benefits in treating symptoms of autism in children. The studies suggest that massage therapy seems to be an effective treatment to decrease the off-task behavior of autistic children in school, to assuage anxiety, to ameliorate hyper-sensitivity to external stimuli, as well as to further cement intimate bonds between children and their parents, although all acknowledge that their experimental design reduces the ability of results to be generalized. The meta-analysis concluded that there is not yet sufficient empirical data to provide any conclusive support for the benefits of touch therapy in treating autism. Current studies’ findings suggest that massage is indeed therapeutic for autistic children, though they remain inconclusive; as such, these findings, and by extension, the potential benefits of massage as a therapy to mitigate obstacles autistic children face, merit more large-scale, empirical research.

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Current Academic Year


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Faye Prichard


Virginia Commonwealth University. Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program

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VCU Undergraduate Research Posters


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Effects of Touch Therapy as a Means of Treatment for Autism Among Young Children