General symptoms that may be present to some degree in a child with autism include:
- Difficulty with verbal communication, including problems using and understanding language.
- Inability to participate in a conversation, even when the child has the ability to speak.
- Difficulty with non-verbal communication, such as gestures, facial expressions and eye-to-eye contact.
- Difficulty with social interaction, including relating to people and to his or her surroundings.
- Inability to make friends and preferring to play alone.
- Unusual ways of playing with toys and other objects, such as only lining them up a certain way.
- Lack of imagination.
- Difficulty adjusting to changes in routine or familiar surroundings, or an unreasonable insistence on following routines in detail.
- Repetitive patterns of behavior, or body movements, such as hand flapping, spinning, and head banging.
- Preoccupation with unusual objects or parts of objects.
Researchers also estimate that between 56% and 83% of children with autism spectrum disorders experience sleep disturbances, including refusal to go to bed, getting out of bed, tantrums at bedtime, early waking, requiring a parent to sleep with the child and hyperactivity at night (Schreck and Mulick, 2004) (Taira et al., 2008). This can create not only difficulty at the very time of the day when relaxation is needed most, but not having adequate sleep can have detrimental effects on parent and child.
So, what does that have to do with Dopamine? Dopamine is a chemical that is both a hormone and a neurotransmitter. Dopamine is important for normal functions of neurons, and plays a role in turning neurons on. It is also a vital component in many nervous system functions, including mood, sleep, movement, and motivation.
According to research performed by the Touch Research Institute published in the International Journal of Neuroscience, cortisol decreases and serotonin and dopamine increase following massage therapy (Field et al., 2005). Not only does this increase in dopamine contribute to sleeping patterns for children on the autism spectrum, but massage therapy can also affect their anxiety levels due to the decrease of the stress hormone cortisol. Massage Therapy may provide relaxation, decreased anxiety and increased dopamine which can assist in appropriate and restful sleep.
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