In 2007, a small controlled study by Dr. Louisa Silva and colleagues was published showing that children treated with a five-month qigong massage methodology improved in sensory impairment and developmental delay. The severity of autism was reduced in measures of autistic behavior as well as measures of language and social skills. The massage was given by a physician trained in Chinese Medicine and the parents.
Last month the same group published additional findings showing that trained early intervention staff and parents could achieve the same results when giving the massage for five months. The authors found that low functioning children responded as well to the intervention as high functioning children, making the case that the primary problem in autism is with the senses rather than a fixed limitation in the brain. Of interest is the finding that the improvement in sensory impairment was accompanied by an improvement in self-regulation, as shown by improved digestion, sleep, and decreased tantrums.
Sensory impairment is a mixed form of hyper- and hypo- sensitivity that affects one or more senses. It can be measured with several standardized assessment tools. In the case of hyposensitivity, children are simply unaware of what is going on around them. In the case of hypersensitivity, children are physically uncomfortable in ordinary social settings, and thus are less open to the learning that might otherwise occur in such settings. Both types of sensory abnormality functionally reduce the information stream reaching that reaches the child, and therefore diminishing the opportunities for learning. On this basis alone, it is not surprising that individuals with autism experience developmental delays.
The group has completed a larger randomized, controlled study of the intervention which will be published in summer 2009 in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy. For more information about the project, visit http://www.qsti.org
Results of study: Sensory impairment is a common and significant feature of children on the autism spectrum. In 2005, a qigong massage intervention based on Chinese medicine and delivered by a doctor of Chinese medicine was shown to improve sensory impairment and adaptive behavior in a small controlled study of young children with autism. In 2006, the Qigong Sensory Training (QST) program was developed to train early intervention professionals to provide the QST intervention. This article describes the preliminary evaluation of the QST program as piloted with 15 professionals and 26 children and outcomes testing using standardized tests of sensory impairment and adaptive behavior. Results of outcomes comparing delivery by QST-trained therapists with delivery by a doctor of Chinese medicine showed that both groups improved and that there was no difference in outcome between the two groups. The intervention and training program are described, and implications for future research are discussed.