Effect of Massage Therapy on the Proprioceptive System of an Autistic Child – A Case Study

Posted:Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Gold Winner
Rachel Benbow
HACC, Central Pennsylvania Community College
Harrisburg, PA

Background: Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often have an
underdeveloped or dysfunctional proprioceptive system, leading to significant
motor skill delays and increased anxiety. There is not enough clinical research to
prove the efficacy of massage therapy on proprioceptive dysfunction in children
with ASD, but if proven effective massage therapy could offer a new intervention
for this issue.
Purpose: The objective of this case report is to describe changes in the
proprioceptive abilities of a child with ASD after the application of 8 massage
therapy sessions over a four week period.
Participant: 5 year old female with mid to high functioning autism and
proprioceptive dysfunction. The client’s proprioceptive dysfunction impairs gross
motor planning and execution, creating gross motor developmental delays.
Intervention: Eight 40 minute massage therapy sessions, consisting of Swedish
massage and foot reflexology, were administered twice a week over four weeks.
Improvements in proprioceptive abilities were monitored through pre and postmassage
testing activities that included single foot balancing, jumping rope, backand-
forth ball bouncing, and independent ball dribbling.
Results: The client displayed improvement in proprioceptive testing tasks at a
much faster rate than her usual learning curve. Proprioceptive progress was
demonstrated by gains in gross motor skills pertaining to postural control, overall
body coordination, and use of force.
Conclusion: Although positive results were achieved within this case study, more
extensive studies are needed to verify the efficacy of massage therapy on
proprioceptive dysfunction in children with ASD.