Dr. Louisa Silva is one of the few North American MDs who is actively bridging the gap between Western medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). While Western medicine is really good at diagnosis and crises such as heart replacements and broken limbs, TCM is really good at keeping people from getting sick in the first place, or helping sick or impaired people get really healthy and unimpaired.
Dr. Silva is also one of the few MDs world-wide who has followed the research on autism, and gone beyond the very-outdated impression that ASDs are “incurable neurological disorders”. She was lucky enough to see a demonstration of Acupuncture used instead of drug anesthetics during surgery when she was doing her medical training, which interested her in following up her medical degree with further certification as a TCM Doctor.
A dear friend of hers had a child diagnosed with autism back in 2000. Seeing her friend go through the downward spiral of despair through the lengthy and draining process of acquiring a diagnosis, ended by the blow of learning that “nothing could be done” became a catalyst for Dr. Silva. KNOWING from her TCM training that something very definitely could be done, Dr. Silva realized that what was needed was state-of-the-art research to measure the improvements from the interventions she was familiar with… and she began doing this.
To date, Dr. Silva has done 12 blinded studies of the consistent benefits of Qigong Massage. Her thoughtful research and trainings about Qigong Massage for young children are making a tremendous positive difference, not just in her native Oregon, but around the world through the trainings parents and health practitioners who have studied with Dr. Silva.
Our interview is recorded:
Please keep in mind that, while the terms “higher” and “lower” functioning are used here, the reality is that autistic people with the most difficult ASD challenges who are given the appropriate support and interventions for their specific difficulties will always experience less challenge. And people who have the least ASD challenges will experience ever-greater symptoms and difficulties, the less their current lifestyles have the support and interventions most appropriate to them. In essence, we autistics can slide both up and down the scale of functioning. Here are a few of the highlights from my chat with Dr. Silva:
* Qigong massage is an effective Do-It-Yourself (DIY) technique. This means that no matter who you are, or where you live, if you can get a couple of hours of training somewhere nearby, get the book, or do some online training, you will get results from doing a little bit each day. This is tremendously empowering for those people with extremely limited resources. Someday, I’d like to set up fundraising for getting this kind of training into local and international populations who’d not be able to afford it, otherwise.
* Dr. Silva’s research shows an average gain in function of 30%, throughout the spectrum. This means that the most challenged individuals are able to reach moderate functioning, that moderately challenged individuals are able to reach high functioning, and that higher functioning individuals are able to camouflage better in the general population, the way I have. (Although I was not able to access Qigong Massage as a child, I have experienced similar gains from similar treatments as an adult, and I encourage you, whatever age and degree of ASD challenges you are experiencing, to never assume we autistics are too old to see improvements!)
* Behaviour can be moderated with sensory calming and sensory integration support such as Qigong Massage. The skin is a direct way to reach the brain stem, and help it correct the ways it has gotten off its optimal developmental pathways. Behaviour can also indicate how the massage needs to be moderated to best support that ASD individual.
* The symptoms for which this treatment is most obviously helpful are tantrums, sleep problems, self-limited diet, lack of eye contact, sensory sensitivities (clothing, temperature, texture, etc.), constipation, and diarrhea. While Dr. Silva says this treatment is most effective for tantrums, I believe that she means meltdowns. The impact of these kinds of techniques on the central nervous system allow the sympathetic system to stand down, and the parasympathetic system to function better. This makes it much easier to avoid getting overwhelmed, as it takes so much more stress to reach that “I just can’t cope” threshold.
* The program: 20-week intervention (2 sets of 10 visits, once a week, allows a treatment and a control group within the school year). Pretesting is carried out by (blinded) professionals such as Occupational Therapists and Speech Pathologists, then repeated 5 months later, and one year later. Anywhere from the first week to the end of the second month, encouraging results begin, usually starting with better sleep, and moving into catching up on developmental stages. Her recommendation is to do this massage daily for an entire year.
* During this 5 month program, there is an average of 30% improvements in sensory and self-regulatory measures, parental stress measures, developmental measures of social and language skills, and autistic behaviours.
* Qigong Massage can be done with children with very difficult responses to touch, and these responses heal over time. It works most effectively if both parents can work on their child together, as a daily balancing and connecting treatment. The only real bar to using this technique is if a parent cannot do the massage because of his or her own health or physical challenges.
If you are, or are in contact with, a health or therapeutic professional who specializes in working with autistics, I would like to hear from you. If you have information to add to an existing interview with someone else, please comment on that post. I will not be repeating interviews on specific interventions until I’ve covered as much of the breadth of options as I’m able, but if your experiences or work is intriguing enough, we will definitely connect!