NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

April 24, 2013

Offering an alternative treatment for autism

Viewpoint
Antonio Latorella

---- — The survey is complete, and the results are quite haunting. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released last month that autism has risen from affecting one in 88 children in 2012 to one in 50 children today. This amplification shows just how strong the disease has become. With such pressing results, it is evident parents of children with autism are going to be in need of some help.

Autism in children often affects many of their skills including communication, learning, social skills and behavior. With such a broad range of areas, it can be very difficult to decide on any one treatment. Therefore, it is necessary to administer a mixture of treatments in order to have the best results.

Autism is most commonly treated medically. Both risperidone and aripiprazole have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating the irritability often associated with autism. SSRI’s, usually used in the treatment of depression and anxiety disorders, are used in helping social functions, although they are not yet labeled to treat autism. Medication does not solve everything as we might hope it would.

In conjunction with medication, behavioral intervention is often used in helping both the child and the family. Through several different exercises, professionals guide the child through each stage of development. However, sometimes autism is persistent and it seems the child will never open up and show any need for attention. Parents need that bond with their child for that feeling of connection. What parents often do not know is that this bond can be formed over time through an alternative means.

People often believe massage is something only suited for relaxation; however, it has actually made great lengths in the medical world. With benefits including increased circulation, decreased tension, increased range of motion and recovery work for injury, massage has proven to be a lot more than just a means for relaxation. Further looking into its benefits, massage has also been shown to increase an individual’s trust toward another’s physical touch. Many children with autism have problems with physical contact including hugging or being cuddled by their caregivers. So why not provide autistic children with massage?

Much of the issue is the simple fact that parents are not aware of the benefits of massage for autistic children, let alone know it as an option. Many have also stereotyped the practice as something only people with extra money can receive. However, there are many chain massage studios that offer memberships allowing for very large discounts.

Massage also offers extra training in conjunction with clients who have autism. So, therapists with certification in massage for autistic clients are prepared to tailor their massages accordingly. If parents are still uneasy about it, massage training exists for parents who have children with autism. They then have the ability to administer the massage personally, further allowing for the physical contact their relationship may lack. Several studies have shown an increase in the need for physical stimulation such as hugging and cuddling by autistic children following a regimen of weekly massages. With the results there really is no reason not to try it.

Over time, it is hoped that massage can be incorporated as a common treatment for children with autism. As the natural remedy has shown, it can help in improving their social and behavioral patterns. More importantly, it can greatly improve the quality of life between both the parents and children. In the end that is what is most important. With an increase in its use, massage will prove to be an asset in the medical world.

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Antonio Latorella, who works in Newburyport, is a student at UMass Boston majoring in psychology.