Individualized Massage Therapy for Individuals with Special Needs

by Christopher Allan, LMT

In my professional lifetime I have found nothing more rewarding than working with kids and adults with disabilities. I have also found most massage therapists are not fully prepared to handle the unique challenges brought forward when working with these individuals;  which was the behind purpose creating the course, “Massage Therapy for Special Needs: Autism, Cerebral Palsy, and More”.

Over ten years ago I had a most memorable client suffering from a traumatic brain injury as a result of an incident that occurred many years prior. There was limited coverage of working with individuals with disabilities during my massage school training and I knew intuitively that I was underprepared for this experience. To say I was winging it that first session is an understatement.

My knock on the door was greeted by hellos from an attendant, a nurse, a parent and another caregiver. I took a few moments to introduce myself and discuss what I thought was about to happen during our session. Little did I know my preconceptions were way off base.

This client was non-verbal, prone to seizures, and would involuntary swing his arm all over the place. I am sure I looked like a deer in headlights that day but I pressed on and continued my work. I knew upon leaving his home we would not achieve his treatment goals if next week’s session looked anywhere near what had just transpired.

As a massage therapist, it can be unsettling when your work isn’t resonating with a client. When I am not sure of the best course of action for treating a client, I go back to basics. I combed reference materials, pathology books, and researched the internet. I pulled techniques from my massage training basic toolkit and tried them out – friction and melting, deep cross fiber friction, pressure points of the feet and hands, and swedish effleurage of the abdomen in a clockwise motion.

After a few weekly treatments, caregivers reported back these techniques helped the client tremendously with relieving constipation and keeping him regular. The treatment plan was working! Over time I grew to be more confident discussing the client’s needs with their attendant, family member, nurse, physical therapist, and doctor; which is essential to achieving positive outcomes for the client.

I deeply and compassionately believe individuals with disabilities deserve nothing but the best, most highly trained, and dedicated massage therapists.  Although results are not always immediate or lasting, they do happen (sitting upright, raising an arm above the shoulder, or relieving constipation). In my heart, these small steps produce the biggest rewards.


Register for the Massage for Special Needs workshop with Christopher Allan and Melodee Powers on January 19, 2014. CLICK HERE to register today!

2 thoughts on “Individualized Massage Therapy for Individuals with Special Needs

  1. Tracey Stanphill says:

    Hello, I have worked in the Special Needs dept of our local school district for almost 2 decades. I recently had the opportunity to go to Massage school and get my Master license. I am about to lauch my massage business and would love to incorporate my love and knowledge of Special Needs into my modalities/Specialties.Autism, Deafness, Cerebral palsy, siezures are all needs that I am proud to work with. I live in Dallas area and there are few massage therapists that cater to this population along with the Senior popuation. I would love to come to a class/conference asap is there something you could lead me to?

    1. davidl says:

      Thanks for the question. I’m aware of Daybreak I think it’s called. Also many of the people who specialize in hospital-based massage maybe a useful resource for you. Gayle McDonald and Tracy Walton are two who come to mind.

Comments are closed.