Every conference – it never fails.
I’m about to start my presentation on Touch Therapy for Children with Autism, and someone walks right up to the stage to say, “I can’t wait to hear your lecture. Children with Autism don’t like to be touched. I can’t imagine the crazy things you’re going to share”.
My favorite guest. Seriously. I always invite them to take a front-row seat and get ready.
It never fails. Every. Single. Time.
And, so without fail, the first words out of my mouth –
“Children with Autism do not like to be touched. False!”
I’ve found that it’s a pretty good way to get the crowd’s attention, and it’s true.
Understanding a little bit about Autism
Autism is characterized by sensory malfunction and dysfunction of the tactile system, often making a child averse to certain sights, sounds, smells, or touch.
Given that children with Autism often appear to be opposed to physical contact, it is interesting that many therapists and parents are finding great success in using massage therapy for those considered to be on the spectrum.
We all know that children require nurturing touch to thrive, and for those with Autism, it is essential to use specialized touch therapy. We can both relate to and reach this group of children by using this different approach.
The impact that Autism Spectrum Disorder has on children cannot be easily defined; many have trouble with behavioral outbursts, muscle atrophy, difficulty sleeping, and gastrointestinal issues.
The good news is that touch therapy may be helpful in all of these situations.
Before you jump right in and get started, let me share three significant considerations.
Anxiety about Being Touched
For children on the spectrum, you should be aware of the child’s possible anxiety about being touched. Stress may stem from tactile hypersensitivities and the previous touch interpreted as painful or confusing. They may also have susceptibility to sensory overload and lack feeling or awareness.
Every session should be child-directed, so I always recommend parents and therapists to begin carefully and respect the child’s verbal and non-verbal language.
Take extra time to recognize a child’s likes and dislikes associated with types of touch therapy techniques, textures, sensory and environmental considerations. Whether on the spectrum or not, we should always respect each child’s needs.
Pediatric touch therapy provides a positive experience of receiving healthy tactile stimulation and lifelong benefits. Published studies suggest that touch therapy may decrease Cortisol levels and increase Oxytocin levels, directly correlating to reduced stress, anxiety, and nervousness.
Over time, children who receive touch therapy may become more spatially aware and have better body awareness. This safe, evidence-informed practice, along with regular sensory integration, can be beneficial in reducing inattentiveness, touch aversion, and withdrawal.
Even with the same diagnosis, no two children will present in precisely the same way. Slow down, take your time, and achieve the best benefits.