Of the memorable contacts we made during our year in Ecuador, working with Morgan and his parents Katie and Mike Holmes was easily the most special. Katie and Mike approached us, at the suggestion of a friend, curious about treatments for their 10-year old autistic son Morgan.
Katie and Mike’s primary reason for seeking treatment was to help with potty training. Morgan is primarily non-verbal but that doesn’t stop him communicating his likes and dislikes, his stressors and soothers. Unfortunately, his signaling and communication around toilet behavior was sporadic at best. Morgan also struggled with an easily reversed circadian rhythm (staying awake at night and sleeping during the day).
We invited Morgan and his parents to the clinic to further discuss their needs and to observe how Morgan reacted to the environment. While Morgan explored his new surroundings, we impressed upon Katie and Mike the importance of their participation in Morgan’s treatment. Katie and Mike were onboard, if not a little apprehensive, and Mike agreed to mule back two copies of Qigong Massage for Your Child with Autism: A Home Program from Chinese Medicine written by Dr. Louis Silva MD MPH. Dr. Silva is the Director of the Qigong Sensory Training Group and has completed multiple research studies of the effects of qigong massage on young children with autism. Armed with Dr. Silva’s protocol we proceeded to see Morgan every Saturday for a 30-minute session while coaching and supporting Katie and Mike in their daily massage efforts at home.
From an Oriental Medicine viewpoint, the behaviors observed in autistic children relate to discordant energy surging through and around the body. Children are primarily Yang in nature, growing and changing at a very fast rate, which guides the energy upward towards the head. If this flow of energy becomes blocked a child may exhibit a tantrum of sorts. In autistic children, energy blocks are often found in the head, ears, chest and tummy while the hands and feet are often empty. The idea behind Tui Na (Chinese Medical Massage) and Qigong for autistic children is to balance the energy pathways within the body, strengthening weak pathways, draining full pathways and supporting a smooth, continuous flow of energy within and around the body.
Physical touch for children on the spectrum is very uncomfortable making getting dressed, haircuts and nail trims very stressful times. According to the Qigong Sensory Training Group, soothing touch is rejected and actively avoided by autistic children due to a “loss of small sensory nerve fibers mediating pleasant touch, known as C-tactile fibers. These fibers are involved in calming and soothing young children, and in social bonding.” The skin belongs to the Metal element and is ruled by the paired organs of the Lung and Large Intestine. This organ pair is responsible for the intake of our external environment and the elimination of no longer needed experiences. In autistic children, a block at the surface level of the skin disrupts appropriate boundaries, allowing external environmental stimuli to overwhelm the system while rejecting the calming effect of soothing touch.
During the three short months we worked with Morgan, and his parents, we witnessed a slow and steady progression of change. Morgan went from having to be coaxed onto the massage table to climbing up unassisted and from being uncomfortable and resisting touch to physically placing our hands on areas where he wanted to be touched (primarily his tummy, head, face and back). He hummed, smiled and laughed during his treatments and began making eye contact. Katie and Mike noticed a marked difference in his reaction to nail trims and haircuts allowing these activities to happen without resistance or a tantrum. The change that warranted the biggest celebration was Morgan’s ability to signal his need for the bathroom. “The breakthrough has been that in addition to getting a firm grasp on signaling us his needs to go to the bathroom (urination), we have, for the first time, had success with bowel movement potty success.”
It was incredibly encouraging for all of us to witness these changes in Morgan’s behavior after a few months of daily massage. The Qigong Sensory Training Group credits these changes to the daily tactile stimulation from Qigong massage, which “stimulates the sprouting and regrowth of the tiny [C-tactile] touch fibers.” Incredibly, their two-year study results show “that after two years of the daily treatment children recover 100 percent of normal touch.” This is positive news for parents of autistic children that by simply following a short daily massage protocol huge changes in behavior can occur.
For more information on the Qigong Sensory Training Group, visit their website at http://www.qsti.org/.
A great video explaining Qigong massage for autistic children from an Oriental Medicine perspective can be seen at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqSemcDqnNI
Do you have an autistic child? Does a friend or family member have an autistic child? Please feel free to share this article with them. Contact us with questions regarding our treatments and services at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Good Health,
Erin & John