Newly-published Breakthrough Study Offers Hope to Families of Children with Autism

Western Oregon University's Teaching Research Institute

April 1, 2015

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New research published in the peer-reviewed journal, Autism Research and Treatment, offers hope and assistance to parents of children with autism and early childhood special education programs. The large federal autism study, conducted by Teaching Research Institute, Western Oregon University, confirmed over ten previous studies reporting effectiveness of a breakthrough treatment for children with autism. Funding for the study was received from the Maternal and Child Health Bureau through Autism CARES.

This research-based treatment was developed for use by parents and early childhood special education programs starting at the time of autism diagnosis. It reduces the severity of autism by one third in the first five months and helps children benefit from educational programs. Sensory difficulties, behavior and learning improve at home and in school.

The core of the intervention is a specialized parent-delivered massage program known as QST massage for autism. Parents give the program daily and trained therapists provide parent support and child treatment during weekly 1/2 hour visits. This low-cost solution delivers positive results in four key areas:
• Autism is less severe by 32%, resulting in improved behavior and language
• Parenting stress is reduced by 44%
• Sensory problems improve by 38%; sensitivity to touch and texture improves by 49%
• Children are more affectionate with their families, participate more in family life, and are more receptive to classroom learning.

The sensory disability in autism is unusual in that it involves several senses including the master sense in early childhood development - touch. Cutting hair and nails, wearing clothes and shoes, textures of food, noises and smells can be overwhelming for young children with autism. QST massage for autism works by helping to normalize the sense of touch and eventually the other senses.
Parents are trained to give the massage every day. They do not avoid uncomfortable areas, but instead attune massage techniques to their children's comfort level. As parents work through the discomfort, sensory and behavioral problems diminish. Children start to relax, make eye contact and listen. Receptive language improves. Children become more affectionate; bonding and social interactions improve. The severity of autism decreases.

This is the first report from a two-year, randomized controlled trial evaluating the protocol in 103 preschool children with autism. Five-month outcomes replicated earlier studies and showed normalization of receptive language (18%, p.=.03), autistic behavior (32%, p.=.006), total sensory abnormalities (38%, p.=.0000005), tactile abnormalities (49%, p.=.0002), and decreased autism severity (medium to large effect size, p.=.008). In addition, parents reported improved child-to-parent interactions, bonding and decreased parenting stress (44%, p.=.00008). This program is an effective sensory treatment for autism and can be recommended to parents and early intervention programs for implementation at the time of autism diagnosis.

This study was supported by grant R40 MC 24945 from the Maternal and Child Health Research Program, Maternal and Child Health Bureau, Health Resources and Services Administration, Department of Health and Human Services. This article includes information regarding the initial-phase, main study results. The entire project will include three additional benchmark results: one-year follow-up, two-year follow-up, and a study focused on children ages 6-11.

To learn more about the study or the treatment, visit or contact Kris Gabrielsen at 503.474.0218 or [email protected].