Shiatsu for autism


During my time working as a tutor with autistic children of mostly pre-school age, I realised how beneficial it would be to bring more moments of calm into the daily routine of families with autistic children.






Many children and adults with autism are under constant stress and experience some level of anxiety. This might be because they suffer from over- or under-sensitivity, digestive problems or allergies. They have difficulties expressing themselves and find social situations hard to understand and cope with. Some might have problems with motor skills; show repetitive behaviours or more challenging behaviours. Many experience sleep problems and problems with regulating emotions. Having to face so many challenges is not only stressful for the person with autism but also for their family.

During tutoring sessions with the children in their home, I noticed how they welcomed pressure. They asked for hands or feet to be pressed, enjoyed when I rolled an exercise ball over them or wanted to be tightly wrapped into a blanket. All this seemed to have a calming and soothing effect. Throughout my shiatsu training, I kept thinking how the pressure experienced during a treatment could be of great benefit to these children.



Shiatsu is a touch-based therapy, which originated in Japan. I use pressure of the palms of my hands and thumbs to work the body following certain energy lines. At the same time this pressure stimulates the flow of blood and releases tightness of muscles and tendons. The slow and steady pace of the pressure calms your mind leaving you relaxed, more opened up and more centred. Being in this quiet state helps you to process and integrate your daily experiences.

Because of shiatsu’s releasing, regulating and calming effect I was convinced that its influence could greatly benefit children with autism.

After I attended a shiatsu workshop with Karin Kalabanter-Wernicke, focusing on shiatsu with infants, I felt that her way of working would be very fitting. Some of the reasons why her approach interested me were:

  • The shiatsu techniques are safe and easy to learn and can be taught to the parents.
  • It provides the parents with extra skills to support their child when the child might need it most.
  • Shiatsu is predictable and does not involve sudden movements, manipulations or cracking.
  • The three sequences are short (max. 20 minutes) and received through clothing.
  • The techniques can be easily incorporated into the daily routine, e.g. before bedtime.
  • Shiatsu is about touch, which communicates warmth and empathy. It helps strengthen the bond between parent and child.
  • The pressure reduces stress levels.
  • Shiatsu focuses on self-regulation and rebalancing of the body systems.
  • Parents can also treat each other with the techniques, giving each other a well- deserved rest and strengthening their bond.

The next step was to start teaching these techniques to parents of autistic children using the following format: the sessions are spread out over three appointments of an hour each during which the parents learn how to treat the front, back and side of their child’s body. The treatments cover particular energy lines as well as locations of specific pressure points. Included are techniques, which help with e.g.:

  • Digestive issues
  • Strengthening of the immune system
  • Lowering of anxiety levels
  • Regulating sleep
  • Getting a better sense of self, i.e. of one’s physical boundaries through feeling oneself
  • Motor coordination

The sessions also look at how to apply good pressure and include gentle stretches. If the child is keen to participate I will give him/her the treatment on a mat on the floor and the parent watches. Then the parent can practise on their child or on me. I ask the parents to lie down too so that they get the opportunity to receive and experience what the treatment feels like.

When giving shiatsu at home, it is important for parent and child to want to do it at that chosen moment. The parent has to want to give and the child has to be motivated to receive. If one of the parties does not feel like participating, it is better to leave it and try again at a different time.

If you are interested in learning these shiatsu techniques, why not book an appointment with Ana and get £10 off the first session this March 2017.

Ana de Graaf Willems    Shiatsu