Massage and aromatherapy can calm autistic children and offer parents respite from the stresses of caring for a special needs child, a Bowling Green licensed massage therapist said.
Marylee C. Schreiber owns and operates Sanctuary Body Spa, 730 Fairview Ave. She has an autistic son and has learned – through him and her own training – massage and aromatherapy techniques that can make a difference in autistic children’s lives. She talked about those techniques at a recent seminar.
Schreiber said the Touch Research Institute in Miami studied autistic children and found massage helped the children sleep better.
Those with autism are either hypersensitive or hyposensitive to touch and receive stimuli from their bodies that are difficult to process. “They may have difficulty understanding their own body,” Schreiber said.
The sensory processing disorder means an autistic child or adult might close his or her eyes because of light, cover ears to avoid sounds, spit out food because of taste concerns, pinch his or her nose in reaction to a smell or withdraw from a person touching them. People with autism may not wear certain clothes because the fabrics are off-putting, Schreiber said.
A hypersensitive autistic child or adult is extremely ticklish, resistant to bathing and grooming, walks on his or her toes and touches objects with the back of the hand, not using the palm or the fingers. The hyposensitive are much less aware of senses. They are not aware of touch, not bothered by cuts or bruises, will kick and bite others despite pain consequences or hit themselves in the head, Schreiber said. “Or, they can have both attributes,” she said.
Massage techniques differ with hypersensitive and hyposensitive autistic children and adults. If touch is an issue, gentle, patting rocking movements and yoga-like stretching are used. “Use the same massage sequence,” Schreiber said. A hypersensitive person might take awhile to get used to the touch on hands and feet. The approach changes with a hyposensitive person where touch isn’t an issue. “You use more pressure, kneading the muscles and compressing them,” she said.
Behaviors exhibited by people with autism, such as those brought on by overstimulation, lessen after a regular program of massage. “They benefit from the training of their senses and increase awareness of their body,” she said.
Pure essential oils – such as vetiver, lavender and cedarwood – combined in just one or two drops with shampoos, laundry detergent or dryer sheets – offer another strategy to calm overstimulated nervous systems that autistic children and adults daily confront. Aromatherapy using the essential oils, dispersal aided by misting machines, can make bedtime a more pleasant experience for autistic children and their parents, Schreiber said.