Qigong Sensory Treatment (QST) contains two concepts: qi, the vital energy of the body, and gong, the cultivation of qi (Weintraub 2001). A possible explanation for the mechanism of qigong is that the emitted qi can help open barriers to qi flow which helps to balance the qi in the patient (Weintraub 2001). In recent years, this hands-on therapy has documented benefits for ASD as well as other neurological disorders, in particular Parkinson’s Disease which has symptoms displaying body tremors, rigidity, reduced range of motion, and more. Other than neurological disorders, QST has shown to also treat other health problems such as cardiovascular diseases, pain, hypertension, and asthma (Weintraub 2001).
Currently, more families are considering qigong and massages for treating children with ASD because studies have shown that parents are able to learn and effectively treat children with ASD using QST massages (Silva, Gabrielson et. al 2011). This makes QST a more safe, cheap, and convenient alternative to conventional treatments such as CBT or pharmaceuticals. The most common qigong practice for ASD is Qigong Sensory Treatment (QST), which is a manual therapy composed of 12 patting, shaking, and pressing movements applied to 12 areas of the body (Silva, Gabrielson et. al 2011).
According to TCM theory, ASD results from the closure of sensory orifices, preventing the brain from receiving information from the outside world for normal development and learning. Thus, QST treats ASD by targeting the improvement of sensory and self-regulatory impairment which underlies social and language delays (Silva, Gabrielson et. al 2011). These findings indicate that QST can treat both bodily manifestations of autism such as GI issues in addition to neurological disturbances. This holistic treatment is unique compared to ABA or CBT options which only deal with behavioral aspects of autism.
In a clinical trial comparing home QST program (parent-delivered therapy), dual QST program (parent and professional-delivered therapy), and control treatment for children under 18 with ASD, results show that there were significantly larger improvements in children treated under the dual QST program while there were smaller improvements in children treated under the home QST program (Silva, Gabrielson et. all 2011). Comparing the treatment effects between the home and dual QST program, both treatments show a significant improvement in sensory impairment and self-regulation and small improvements in verbal skills (Silva, Gabrielson et. al 2011). Similarly, in a systematic review investigating the effectiveness of QST in treating children with ASD, results show that 36% of the improved ASD symptoms were in sensory impairment along with a significant improvement in composite ASD scores and sensory regulation scores (Silva, Ayres et. al 2011).
While the main improvements were in sensory impairment and sensory regulation, there were also small improvements made in language acquisition and verbal skills. These verbal improvements are an indirect result of the sensory impairment improvements that normalize the circulation of blood and qi to the skin as well as touch and pain responses (Silva, Ayres et. al 2011). This can have important implications for children with ASD that suffer from hypersensitivity to touch, light, or noise. Overall, these clinical results show that QST has extremely promising results in improving sensory impairment and regulation. For families looking into TCM, QST may be a great alternative as it has no adverse effects and has been around for thousands of years.
Silva LM, Schalock M, Ayres R. A model and treatment for autism at the convergence of Chinese medicine and Western science: first 130 cases. Chin J Integr Med. 2011;17(6):421‐429. doi:10.1007/s11655-011-0635-0
Silva LM, Schalock M, Gabrielsen K. Early intervention for autism with a parent-delivered Qigong massage program: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Occup Ther. 2011;65(5):550‐559. doi:10.5014/ajot.2011.000661
Weintraub M. Qigong and Neurologic Illness. Alternative and Complementary Treatments in Neurologic Illness. 2001;15, 197-200.