Evidence Based Massage Treatment for Autism

By Matt Elliott, LAc and QST therapist and instructor

By Matt Elliott, LAc and QST therapist and instructor

Autism can be a particularly difficult challenge for families and healthcare providers.  Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy has been the mainstay of evidence based Autism treatment in addition to more traditional therapies and good healthcare followup.  However, availability of these therapies, cost, and time are often barriers to their widespread use.  In this blog post, we wanted to highlight an additional tool that can be used in combination with other therapy techniques that has shown tremendous promise in research studies.  We like it because it's affordable, evidence based, and essentially without side effects.  Also, there's no requirement for high, ongoing costs for families.  We hope you enjoy reading about this promising treatment technique.  Matt Elliot is the Portland-area Master Qigong trainer and can be reached at matt@qsti.org

-Dr. Fish

In Autism, many challenges with learning social and communication skills originate from problems with sensation.  Beginning when we are very young, touch is what soothes us and organizes us.  It helps us get a sense of where our bodies are in space and helps us calm down when we are upset. 

In almost all cases of Autism, this sense of touch is disordered, sending mixed signals to the brain and resulting in unexpected and startling behavior.  This can be very upsetting for parents, though it’s not their fault. 

Instead, there is a problem with reception in the nervous system and a breakdown in the lines of communication between the skin and the brain.   When the skin has a problem, a hug or a kiss on the cheek doesn’t reach the child as well and they are more likely to stay upset, even when these gestures are meant to reassure or comfort.  It might be harder for these children to go to sleep, or eat, or calm down when they are scared or angry.  It might be harder to put on shoes, or a coat, or get a haircut.  


Qigong ("chee-gong") Sensory Therapy (QST) is a massage technique that our group is researching as a method for parents to help their Autistic children.  The technique is specially developed and involves giving a 15 minute massage each day to these kids.   Our research has shown significant improvement in all symptoms of Autism. 

Our research indicates that this massage program improves the sense of touch making it easier for parents to soothe and comfort their children.  Communication also improves.  Tantrums become less frequent and less intense.  Language and social skills develop.  Other sensory challenges become easier.  

QST helps children with Autism by improving the sensory pathways between the skin and the brain.

QST helps children with Autism by improving the sensory pathways between the skin and the brain.

Our studies show that children who receive QST massage for 5 months have a reduction in symptoms by better than 30%.  Parent stress levels go down by more than 40% in that same time.  Over the past 15 years, the Qigong Sensory Therapy Institute has provided therapy for over 1000 families in the Portland area and has published numerous research studies.  

More information about QST massage is available at QSTI.org


Corey FishAutismComment