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Efficacy of a qigong massage methodology for children with ASD aged 3-11 years


  • Early Childhood (3-5 years)
  • Middle Childhood (6-11 years)


Autism is currently estimated to affect 1% of children. Autism is thought to be a life-long disorder with upwards of two-thirds of individuals remaining dependent on others for life, although hope remains that effective early intervention (EI) can make a difference. Behavioral and developmental interventions delivered by trained staff have become the predominant approach in younger children but are expensive and often not accessible to low-income families. The evidence suggests that parent-delivered interventions can contribute to improved outcomes for children, and these are comparatively less expensive than professional-delivered interventions. An acute need exists for training in parent interventions that could improve outcomes for children with ASD and be accessible to low-income families through the EI program and/or at home. For the past eight years, we have researched a lower cost, innovative treatment approach for young children with autism in collaboration with state-sponsored EI programs in Oregon. Qigong Sensory Training (QST) is an evidence-based treatment that has shown efficacy for core behavioral, social and language features of autism in two small-scale, randomized, controlled trials (RCTs) as judged by blinded teacher and parent reports. The core part of the treatment is a daily, parent-delivered massage based on principles of Chinese medicine. As a physical treatment designed to relax the child and normalize sensory responses, particularly of touch, it has shown efficacy in improving behavior and social/language skills in both low- and high-functioning children. Following parent training, and in concert with QST staff support, our program uses parents as the principal provider of daily treatment, and so is apt to prove a more economical means of delivering effective care. The program has been replicated in six regional EI programs in Oregon, and is now offered in a limited way in several regions. In this project, we will replicate and extend previous work by conducting a larger, Phase-2 trial of the efficacy of the QST intervention in the under six age group (90 children) and an exploratory trial in the six to 11 year age group (45 children). Working in collaboration with and recruiting from state-sponsored EI programs in Oregon, we will conduct two separate RCTs to test our hypotheses: in years 1 and 2 we will evaluate the under six age group, and in year three, the 6-11 age group. Longitudinal data will be gathered to determine maintenance effect with the under six group. A multi-site, RCT design will be employed with participating children separately assigned to either QST intervention or wait-list control conditions; both groups will continue to participate in their state-sponsored special education program. Children meeting inclusion/exclusion criteria will be pre-tested with standardized and validated measures using blinded teachers, blinded professionals, and parents. Stratification of children into more and less severe autism will be done using the group median for a separate measure for autism. A treatment manual will be used and treatment fidelity evaluated.


Listed is descending order by year published.

Silva LM, Schalock M, Gabrielsen KR, Budden SS, et al. Early intervention with a parent-delivered massage protocol directed at tactile abnormalities decreases severity of autism and improves child-to-parent interactions: a replication study. Autism Res Treat. 2015:904585.

Silva LM, Schalock M, Gabrielsen KR. About face: evaluating and managing tactile impairment at the time of autism diagnosis. Autism Res Treat. 2015:612507.

Silva, LMT, Schalock, M. Prevalence and significance of abnormal tactile responses in young children with autism. N Am J Med Sci. 2013; 6(3): 121-127.

Silva, LMT, Schalock, M. Treatment of tactile abnormalities in young children with autism with qigong massage. Int J Ther Massage Bodywork. 2013; 6(4): 12-20.

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