MONMOUTH -- Autism isn't an uncommon condition. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there's a case in one out of every 110 births.
But it's not an easy developmental disability to cope with. It traps children within routines of repetitive behavior, create aversions to being touched or overstimulate senses.
"For some, it's a matter of sounds so overwhelming, it makes them frustrated," said Linda Poling, a Dallas occupational and massage therapist who has an autistic daughter.
"I liken it to being in a room with an alarm going off constantly," Poling added. "How would you react if you couldn't get away from it?"
There's no cure for autism. But the Teaching Research Institute at Western Oregon University has been examining a promising method that's both new and thousands of years old -- and capable of lessening the condition's impact.
In the last decade, TRI professors and cooperating specialists have conducted eights studies and provided training on using Chinese Qigong massage therapy to improve behavior and education performance of autism patients.
A controlled TRI analysis, published in the American Journal for Occupational Therapy in 2009, showed most of 46 young children who received daily massages for five months became calmer, more responsive and more socially interactive.
"It's not a cure by any means," said Louisa Silva, a doctor and practitioner of Chinese medicine, who led the research. "But it's noninvasive ... and children who get the massage for five months showed less severe autism compared to when the work started."
Qigong massage is a Chinese technique that dates back several thousand years. It utilizes tapping and grasping massage to enhance neurological pathways.
Silva, who started practicing Qigong in 2000, said the method restores regular sensation in the skin and improves circulation in the head and neck.
Of the research, work took place during a 10-year period, with dozens of children and their families from two education service districts serving six counties, including Polk County. Specialists administered the techniques, which were later taught to parents.
"It's something the parents can do at home," Silva said.
According to a TRI study published in the American Journal for Occupational Therapy in 2009, tested children's ability to "self-soothe" -- being able to remain calm in a given situation -- measurably improved after three months of massages.
"The children use their senses more normally," Silva said. "It makes it easier to calm down when they're upset, to go to sleep when they're tired, or to stop eating if they aren't hungry."
Poling, who participated in the studies and is now licensed in Qigong massage, said it helps "even out" a child's sensory system.
"It helps them make sense of the world," she said.
Qigong film, panel set
MONMOUTH -- Western Oregon University's Teaching Research Institute was involved in the production of a documentary on autism and Qigong (pronounced Chee-gong) massage that will premiere at WOU on Saturday, April 10.
"Helping Families with Autism: Qigong Massage," a film by Donna Read, will be shown in the Pacific Room of the Werner University Center at 2 p.m.
Community members, physicians and educators are also welcome to sit in on a panel discussion that will follow at 3 p.m. Participants include members of TRI autism research team, physical therapists and representatives from Legacy Emmanuel Children's Hospital. Two Klamath Falls families who were featured in the movie will also answer questions.
The documentary and panel discussion is free to the public.
For more information about Qigong massage: www.qtsi.org and www.qigong4kids.com.