Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, restricted interests, and repetitive behaviors. Currently available treatments fall under the category of functional rehabilitation, and often have less than satisfactory results. According to a recent case study, manual physical therapy by myofascial release could provide structural rehabilitation, and has the potential to improve a range of neurological and developmental symptoms of ASD.
By Shyam Jungade
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often manifests in early childhood and results in a range of physical and emotional symptoms, which can include muscle rigidity and a lack of understanding and control over one’s own emotions, as well as a lack, or apparent lack, of empathy for others. Currently, the standard treatments for children with ASD include pharmaceutical management, the use of orthotic devices, traditional behavioral interventions, and physical, speech, and occupational therapies. A recent case study from India, published in the Journal of Complementary and Integrative Medicine, claims that these treatment options usually lead to only partial improvement in one or more aspects of the disease, and highlights a new alternative treatment.
It has been proposed that connective tissues (fascia) can become restricted for various reasons, such as overuse or inactivity, trauma and psychogenic diseases (physical illnesses that are believed to arise from emotional or mental stressors, or from psychological or psychiatric disorders). This results in pain, muscle tension, and diminished blood flow.
Myofascial release is a form of manual therapy that treats skeletal muscle immobility and pain by relaxing contracted muscles, improving blood and lymphatic circulation, and stimulating the stretch reflex in muscles. In myofascial release, connective tissue restrictions are felt and then gentle but firm pressure is applied at the site of the restriction for a sustained period of time. When an area of the body is released in this way, it is hypothesized that autonomic regulation might occur between cells and the extracellular environment that causes a flow of information between the cells and the central nervous system.
As a treatment for ASD, myofascial release is performed sequentially on different restricted areas, including in the feet, calves, back and neck, over a number of sessions (usually 2 sessions per week, with a total of 7-9 sessions per month, for 9 months). The author of the study believes that children with ASD who are treated with this type of manual physical therapy can hope “for global improvement in all disorder-related deficits, from emotional aspects to posture correction”.
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