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Benefits of Therapeutic Massage for People with Autism & Their Caregivers

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects approximately 1 in 59 children in the U.S. It's the quickest growing developmental disability - the diagnosis rate is raising 10% - 17% each year, according to the Center for Disease Control.

ASD is treated in a variety of ways - from therapy to traditional medication - but one method of treatment that is gaining popularity is therapeutic massage. How does massage help? It can provide relaxation and calm muscles spasms, for starters. It can also reduce stress. Plus, therapy can help people with ASD become more accustomed to tactile stimulation. Therapeutic massage has also been known to decrease sleeping issues in people with ASD. Other benefits include: reductions in inattentiveness, withdrawal and touch aversion, less erratic behavior and more on-task behavior during play.

As you can see, therapeutic massage has numerous benefits for people with autism. There are so many types out there, though, so which kind of therapy should you go with? I offer a unique, customized approach to each client session based on individual needs of the client utilizing a variety of techniques that I am certified in. Depending on one's needs, here are two specific kinds that can benefit you.


What is craniosacral therapy (CST)? This therapy uses a gentle touch to increase the flow of cerebral spinal fluid to help flush and renew the central nervous system. It was developed in the 70s by a doctor of osteopathy named John Upledger and the efficacy of CST has been supported by research done by John Hopkins University. Since it is believed that ASD may be partially caused by inflammation of the membrane layers surrounding the brain, CST can be particularly useful to decrease strain on the brain which allows brain cells more ability to process information. Like all therapeutic massage, it is non-invasive, and it's goal is to enhance the body's natural healing abilities.

I find my clients receive a variety of benefits of receiving CST sessions.These include relaxation, a feeling of more control over their bodies, enhanced socialization, increased will-being, building positive relationships, enhanced cognitive function. Other therapies can be enhanced when coupling with CST such as speech, occupational and sensory integration therapy. More and more parents, therapists and doctors are recommending craniosacral therapy as an effective treatment to be integrated into their care plan.


Therapeutic acupressure, unlike acupuncture, does not use needles. An ancient healing art based on the concept of balancing the body through "meridians" in one's body, acupressure focuses on opening these pathways to allow the body's innate abilities to facilitate healing by applying hand and fingertip pressure to specific points on the body. With no negative side effects, this form of massage therapy is suitable for everyone - baby to seniors - and can be a useful form of treatment in individuals with ASD.

Therapeutic acupressure offers a variety of benefits to the individual:

  • Reduces anxiety & stress

  • Encourages relaxation in the body

  • Relieves pain

  • Lessens migraine/tension headaches

  • Increases restful sleep

  • Can help maintain good health

  • Balances the body

A Pilot Observational Study of an Acupressure/Acupuncture Intervention in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder is a study done to determine whether children with ASD would tolerate acupressure/acupuncture treatment over an 8-week period with twice weekly treatments. The results of this study determined that acupressure / acupuncture is a feasible intervention for children with ASD and should be studied further.


Many caregivers and parents are finding great success in the use of therapeutic massage for individuals with autism, period. Not surprising considering the studies have shown touch therapy relieves a myriad of physical and mental symptoms associated with ASD. For example, it can have benefits on linguistic abilities (especially when paired with conventional linguistic therapies). One particular area that benefits from massage therapy is the vagus nerve - stimulating this area has proved incredibly beneficial for individuals with ASD. Since the vagus nerve outputs to several areas of the body allowing for better focus & sleep, and can decrease the incidence of seizure.

Want more proof? in an early study done in 1997 by the Touch Research Institute that build on previous studies and involved children with autism, it was found that massage therapy increased attention span, reduced anxiety, helped reduce aversion to touch, plus reduced stereotypic behaviors. The study credited these benefits to the relaxation experienced during therapeutic massage and the fact that touch therapy stimulates the nervous system. (Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders)


Finally, it's important to remember the caregiver in all of this. Caregivers know the importance of caring for others, but have a tendency to forget that they need to care for themselves as well. If you or a loved one is a caregiver of someone with ASD you likely understand how easy it is to get caught up in care for others to the point of becoming overstressed. And when stress isn't reduced it can lead to illness and disease.

If you've ever taken a look at a caregiver self-help list, you'll know that massage is almost always listed. That's because massage is one of the best ways to reduce stress and replenish energy. In fact, a 1998 study by the Oregon Hospice Association and College of Healing Arts found that when massage was offered as a respite intervention, 85% of caregivers who took advantage reported a decrease in emotional and physical stress, while physical pain was relieved for 77% and difficulty sleeping eased for over half of the participants. (Massage Magazine)

By setting aside time for regular massage therapy, caregivers improve improve their overall health & well-being, which in turn enables them to perform better in their role as caregivers.


If you're an individual with autism or a caregiver who is interested in receiving craniosacral therapy, therapeutic acupressure, therapeutic acupressure, or therapeutic massage, now is the time to contact Whole Body Balancing. Rena is a reputable, licensed practitioner trained and certified in all of the above modalities and is eager to help you improve your quality of life.

Contact Rena by email at or call her today at 201-338-0483 to schedule your consultation!

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