Sensory Massage for Autism

Updated: Oct 19, 2018


Sensory Massage for Autism: Qi Gong


Which of these facts is true about autism?

  1. At least 95% of children with autism have tactile abnormalities.

  2. Tactile abnormalities are strongly linked to a severe inability to self-regulate.

  3. Poor self-regulation is strongly correlated with poor social outcomes.

  4. Caregivers hold the key to unlocking autism.

  5. All of the above.

The answer is E - all of the above. Continue reading to learn about a massage technique that when delivered daily for five month reduces the severity of autism by a third.

Sensory Massage: Qi Gong

Qi Gong Sensory Massage was created and researched by Louisa Silva MD in the 1990’s. Dr. Silva was a general practitioner who combined allopathic medicine with Chinese medicine to achieve the best care for her patients. She suspected early on that children with autism experienced touch differently and the sensations they felt impacted how they interacted with those around them. She theorized that if the sense of touch was normalized in children with ASD, symptoms of autism would improve. In 15 published studies of children diagnosed with autism, Dr. Silva demonstrated that treatment with QST massage decreased the severity of all aspects of autism.

After 5 months of treatment*:

  • Sensory problems improved by 38%, touch improved by 49%

  • Autistic behaviors decreased by 32%

  • Social skills increased and children were more affectionate

  • Receptive language increased

  • Parenting stress decreased by 44%

After two years of treatment*:

  • There was a 100% recovery of the sense of touch

  • The average decrease of autism severity was 44%

  • Over 50% of the high functioning children moved off the spectrum

*treatment is referred to here as daily sensory massage by a parent and once weekly with a therapist

Why is touch implicated in Autism?

We have nerve fibers called c-tactile fibers which promote calming and soothing. The fibers are typically in areas where there is hair growth. In babies we typically stroke these areas and it is soothing. Parents teach self-regulation through this soothing touch. Typically, soothing touch involves stroking (face, head, arms, back) which activates these small sensory nerve fibers. When these fibers are intact they promote calming and soothing in young children which leads to social bonding and self-regulation.


Dr. Silva hypothesized that people with autism have less of these nerve fibers and that touch may cause the opposite effect and therefore be perceived as not pleasurable and they may withdraw or need to be in control of the touch. A preliminary biopsy was performed on four children with autism and in each case there was a 50% loss of these sensory nerve fibers that mediate pleasant touch . Additional research must be pursued to demonstrate this in a larger group. However, the research studies demonstrating the efficacy of the massage corroborates these initial findings.

Benefits of Qi Gong Sensory Massage

I was fortunate to have studied with Dr. Silva and learned early on the impact of sensory massage for children and their parents. I have been witness to the relationship change that occurs over the course of the massage. The massage gives parents a roadmap to the best way to soothe their child. The child becomes more comfortable in their own body, more affectionate, learns to self-regulate, and begins to meet developmental milestones. The massage is given daily by caregivers and takes about fifteen minutes. Children and parents all report enjoying their special “Qi, Qi” time together.

For more information on Qi Gong massage and to find a specialist in your area, visit www.qsti.org

Thank you to Karen Peck, of Kid Space Adaptive Play in South Windsor, Connecticut for sharing her specialization in Qi Gong! Karen can be reached at www.kidspaceadaptiveplay.com, by email at karen@kidspaceadaptiveplay.com, or by phone at (860) 432-9923


#deeptouchpressure #autism