Manipulative and Body-Based Practices and Autism


AcupunctureManipulative and body-based practices focus primarily on the structures and systems of the body, including the bones and joints, soft tissues, and circulatory and lymphatic systems.

Manipulative and body-based practices include  acupuncture, chiropractic, craniosacral therapy, massage, osteopathy, and patterning therapies.

The idea behind the use of manipulative and bodybased practices is that the structures and systems of the body can be changed to affect physical functioning and to
promote health. 


Determining the benefits of manipulative and body-based practices for autistic people is difficult because there are so many different practices and the quality of the evidence is very poor. We must wait for further research of sufficiently high quality to be completed

Risks and safety

Some manipulative and body-based practices may carry some risks. For example, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (2012) reported that: "Side effects from spinal manipulation can include temporary headaches, tiredness, or discomfort in the parts of the body that were treated.’"

Specific manipulative and body-based practices


Acupuncture is a therapy which involves inserting and manipulating needles into "acupuncture points" on the body.

The needles may be pulled in and out, or twisted around, before being left in place for 15-20 minutes. Sometimes low voltage electrical stimulation, heat or herbs are applied to assist the process.

Acupuncture is routinely used to treat a wide variety of conditions but especially musculoskeletal pain.

More Information

Please see publications on Acupuncture


Chiropractic is a health profession concerned with the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mechanical disorders of the musculoskeletal system, and the effects of these disorders on the functions of the nervous system and general health.

There is an emphasis on manual treatments including spinal adjustment and other joint and soft-tissue manipulation.

More information

Please see publications on Chiropractic

Craniosacral therapy

Craniosacral therapy (also known as cranio-sacral therapy, craniosacral manipulation, cranial osteopathy, cranial therapy, bio cranial therapy, craniopathy, the neural organisational technique, the sacro occipital technique, and transcranial osteopathy) is an intervention which uses very light touching to balance the craniosacral system in the body.

The craniosacral system includes the bones, nerves, fluids, and connective tissues of the cranium and spinal area.

More information

Please see publications on Craniosacral therapy.


Massage is the practice of applying pressure, tension, motion, or vibration to the skin, muscles and other soft tissues of the body. Massage therapy is the use of massage to obtain therapeutic effects.

There are many different massage techniques and practices.

For example some forms of massage involve gentle stroking and kneading of the skin, while others involve much firmer, deeper pressure on the muscles.

Some forms of massage are restricted to certain parts of the body, such as the head or feet, while others are applied to the whole body.

Massage is often used alongside other techniques, such as aromatherapy, as part of a wider, holistic programme.

More information

Please see publications on Massage.


Osteopathy is a system of diagnosis and treatment for a wide range of medical conditions.

It works with the structure and function of the body, and is based on the principle that the well-being of an individual depends on the skeleton, muscles, ligaments and connective tissues functioning smoothly together.

Osteopaths use physical manipulation, stretching and massage with the aim of:

  • increasing the mobility of joints
  • relieving muscle tension
  • enhancing the blood supply to tissues
  • helping the body to heal.

More information

Please see publications on Osteopathy.

Patterning therapies

Patterning therapies are treatments which involve a series of bodily exercises, and other activities, which are intended to 'rewire' the brain.

There are a number of different forms of patterning therapy (such as the Delacato method, the Doman method, and Developmental Reflexive Rehabilitation) but they all follow similar principles.

Patterning therapy is based on the belief that developmental disabilities like autism are caused by mild to severe brain injury. Those brain injuries can be overcome by moving the body in specific patterns, which is supposed to provide feedback to the damaged brain and help it to heal itself.

Patterning therapy is normally conducted by several adults on a single child. For example, one adult may turn the head of the child, another may move the child's right arm and leg and a third may move the child's left arm and leg.

More information

Please see publications on patterning therapies.

Related Pages

Related Glossaries

27 May 2022