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Student Case Study: Autism and AO Mobilization

Background: Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurological condition defined by developmental delays or impairments in communication skills and social interaction. Reduced cerebellar function and elevated markers of oxidative stress resulting from ischemic conditions have been found in children with ASD.

Participant: Three-year-old boy diagnosed with ASD level 3 and presenting with symptoms of anxiety and severe deficiency in receptive and expressive language skills.

Purpose: To discover the effect that massage and manual mobilization of the atlanto-occipital joint, in particular, has on alleviating symptoms of ASD.


Intervention: Therapist is a 32-year-old male massage student in the final 6 weeks before graduation from a 1,278-hour program. Bi-weekly sessions from 1 to 2 hours long were performed for a period of 5 weeks. Client presented with a severely rotated atlas. These sessions focused primarily on restoring balance to the atlanto-occipital joint. Results were monitored via the Autism Treatment and Evaluation Checklist (ATEC).

Results: There was significant improvement in total ATEC scores and general client behavioral patterns. Observable improvements in language precursors such as eye contact, vocal imitation, vowel-consonant combination usage, and responsiveness to verbal requests were all noted by the therapist and the participant’s mother.

Discussion: The most significant improvements in anxiety and receptive and expressive language skills occurred immediately following atlanto-occipital mobilization. This most likely resulted from the relief of vertebral artery occlusion and ischemic conditions in the cerebellum and other areas of posterior circulation of the brain.

Keywords: anxiety, autism, cerebellum, ischemia, massage

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