What is holding therapy?
Holding therapy involves a person, usually a parent, holding their autistic child tightly in a way that ensures eye contact between them. The aim is to deliberately provoke distress in the child until the child needs and accepts comfort.
Who is holding therapy for?
Supporters of holding therapy claim it can be used with autistic children aged up to 18 years.
What is holding therapy used for?
It’s claimed that holding therapy improves the relationship between child and parent and increases the child’s capacity to relate to others.
Where does holding therapy come from?
The use of holding therapy for autistic children is based on a theory published in 1983 by a Dutch scientist, Niko Tinbergen. This theory was based on Tinbergen’s observations of birds.
What is the idea behind holding therapy?
Holding therapy is based on the theory that autism is caused by the lack of a bond between a parent and child. Supporters of holding therapy claim that this lack of bond creates an emotional imbalance called ‘anxiety-dominated emotional imbalance’. They say this imbalance stops the child being able to learn from interactions with others and leads to social withdrawal. This theory isn’t evidence based.
It’s claimed that the parent-child bond can be repaired by forcing a new emotional connection between the parent and their child. To do this, the therapy provokes distress in the child and then provides the comfort the child needs.
We don’t yet know exactly what causes autism. It’s suspected that there might be several causes, including brain development and genetic factors. But we can say that autism isn’t caused by anything that parents do or don’t do while raising their children.
This means there’s no scientific basis for holding therapy.
What does holding therapy involve?
There are 3 stages in the holding therapy sequence:
- Confrontation – in this stage, the parent and child position themselves so they are physically close and have eye contact. This contact is forced if necessary.
- Rejection – in this stage, the child might fight against the holding.
- Resolution – this stage is reached when the child gives up fighting. It’s claimed that at this stage a strong and enduring bond has developed between parent and child.
Does holding therapy help autistic children?
This therapy is extremely controversial, and the theory behind the therapy is unproven. There’s no high-quality research evidence to support the claims that holding therapy is effective as a therapy for autistic people.
The American Psychological Association says that you shouldn’t use holding therapy. This is because it has the potential to harm children, and there’s no evidence that it benefits children.
Who practises holding therapy?
Supporters of this therapy suggest that a parent should do this therapy with their child, with support from a therapist trained in holding therapy.
Where can you find a practitioner?
If you’re interested in holding therapy, see your GP or one of the other professionals working with your child. They can talk with you about this therapy’s risks and benefits.
You could also talk about holding therapy with your NDIA planner, early childhood partner or local area coordinator, if you have one.
Parent education, training, support and involvement
You don’t need any training to do the therapy, but you should be directly supported by a trained therapist.
The costs of holding therapy depend on whether parents use a trained therapist and how much the therapist charges. There might be additional costs associated with purchasing support materials.
Therapies and supports for autistic children range from behaviour therapies and developmental approaches to medicines and alternative therapies. When you understand the main types of therapies and supports for autistic children, it’ll be easier to work out the approach that will best suit your child.