Holding Therapy and Autism Ranking: Mildly Hazardous Insufficient/Mixed evidence

Aims and Claims


Holding therapy is based on the idea that intense physical and emotional contact between the mother and child will repair the broken bond between them and form the foundation for normal development.

The therapy is based on the work of Tinbergen and Tinbergen (1983) who claimed that autism is caused by "an anxiety dominated emotional imbalance, which leads to social withdrawal and “... a failure to learn from social interaction”.

Some commentators, such as Temple Grandin and Bernard Rimland, have argued that holding therapy may actually be providing a form of sensory stimulation and that it is this which is beneficial rather than mending the broken relationship between mother and child.


There have been various claims made for holding therapy, up to and including complete recovery.

According to Welch and Chaput (1988)

“Based on our experience, regardless of etiology, when early childhood autism is the symptom complex, intact families achieve significant to dramatic improvement in the symptoms, in the child’s relatedness to the parents, and in the quality of life of the family, provided they participate in a rigorous program of mother-child holding that is supervised to insure continuity of effort.”

According to Simpson et al (2005)

“Welch claims that some children with ASD have fully recovered from their disability and achieved normal development, and that all others showed some cognitive, emotional, and/or physiological improvement after being treated with her version of mother-child holding therapy”.

31 Oct 2017
Last Review
01 Oct 2016
Next Review
01 Oct 2019