Autistic Children and Oxytocin

Published: 15th August 2007
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Copyright (c) 2007 Liddle Kidz' Infant and Children's Pediatric Massage

Usually diagnosed by the age of three years, Autism is a complex developmental condition, which affects a child's ability to develop normal language, form relationships with others and respond appropriately to the environment. Characterized by early onset of a lack of attachment, the failure to cuddle as an infant, and an almost complete disassociation with the environment, autism, as we now know it, is incurable . And the behaviors associated with the disorder persist throughout the child's lifetime.

The absence of communication between parent and child is one of the most heart breaking effects of this condition. An autistic child typically does not express any change in facial expression to show pleasure, nor do they express words of love, share hugs or cuddle.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, as many as half of all autistic individuals remain mute throughout their life. For those who do develop verbal language, some may use it in odd ways. Often times repeating what they hear, failing to structure complete sentences or using single words. The autistic child lacks the ability to make requests for his needs or to respond appropriately to his environment.

It has been long believed that an autistic child is incapable of forming attachment. However, research has concluded that these children do attach to their parents, but still remain incapable of acting on this attachment or responding appropriately.

Many autistic children have sensory malfunction and dysfunction of the tactile system making them averse to certain sights, sounds, smells or touch. Given that autistic children have been reported to be opposed to physical contact, it is interesting that many massage therapists, and parents, are finding great success in the use of massage therapy with autistic children.

Research has found that these children show less autistic behavior, are more social and attentive after receiving massage therapy. Regular sensory integration and safe, nurturing touch are beneficial in reducing touch aversion, inattentiveness and withdrawal.

Not so commonly known, many autistic children have significantly lower levels of Oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone which is associated with emotional connections and feelings of love. It can cause feelings of warmth and relaxation and a decrease in stress. Numerous research studies have proven that Oxytocin is released in our bodies during, and after, receiving nurturing touch. In 2007, a study reported that oxytocin helped individuals with autism retain the ability to evaluate the emotional significance of speech and also showed a decrease in autism spectrum repetitive behaviors.

Many children with autism have problems establishing a regular sleep pattern and in remaining asleep through the night. The relaxing benefits of massage and touch therapy contribute to more restful sleep, including less sleep disruption and longer sleep duration.

Through the use of massage therapy, our basic human need for healthy, loving contact is met with often wonderful results. For children with autism, massage provides not only a positive experience of being touched, but the many effects hold lifelong benefits.


Looking for expert advice, tips and techniques to help improve your child's health? Find answers to all your questions about infant massage instruction training, massage for children and pediatric massage therapy at . Infant Massage Instructor Trainer, Tina Allen, founder of leading children's health and nurturing touch organization Liddle Kidz', shares over ten years of expertise working with children and families.

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