How Can Physiotherapy Help?

Sarah Cowgill (Physiotherapist – Burnie)

Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can experience difficulties relating to behaviour, sensory and social experiences. They can also have difficulties with their physical capabilities too.

Early diagnosis and intervention essential for children with ASD ...

Children with ASD may have difficulties in motor control, strength, tightness, posture, toe walking and/or balance. Therefore, Physiotherapy can be a very useful resource to assist a child with ASD.

Most children with ASD will be able to sit, crawl and walk at similar time milestones to their peers, however differences in their movement quality are often noted. Movements can look clumsy, weak, or effortful. They may also have sensory issues which create changes to the way they may move; for example, toe walking or difficulty sitting for long periods. As a child develops, they need strong and efficient functional movements to progress to more challenging activities like running, jumping, throwing, or playing on the playground. Sometimes children with ASD can find these activities difficult which can lead to them not wanting to participate. Children with ASD can often have weakness which can make sitting for long periods of time in a classroom difficult and uncomfortable, leading to fidgeting and disruption.

Physiotherapy can help if your child is:

  • Delayed with achieving gross motor milestones i.e. sitting, walking, running.
  • Finding it hard to negotiate ball tasks i.e. kicking, throwing, catching.
  • Having difficulty with jumping, hopping, or skipping.
  • Finding it hard to keep up with peers in sports or on the playground.
  • Having trouble playing a sport i.e. football, soccer, netball.
  • Finding it hard to sit comfortably in a chair or has poor posture in sitting or standing.
  • Having difficulty with coordination tasks or fine motor tasks, i.e. writing.
  • Falling frequently.
  • Toe walking.
  • Less active because they find it difficult to participate in physical activities.

Children with ASD have difficulty with the above tasks due to the following:

  • Muscles weakness.
  • Impaired imitation skills – as children learn a lot of skills from watching others it can be difficult for children with ASD to pick up the same skills.
  • Dyspraxia – children with ASD find it difficult to plan and initiate movement patterns.
  • Poor coordination – poor coordination can be a result of poor planning process and muscle weakness.
  • Sensory issues – this can lead to gait changes i.e. toe walking which in turn can cause the calf muscles to shorten and become tight.
  • Low muscle tone – low muscle tone requires children to use more strength and energy to achieve or maintain movement. This can lead to an earlier onset of fatigue.
  • Tight muscles and joints – this is normally as a result of poor motor strategies.

There is a risk that due to social, sensory and motor concerns, people with ASD will continue to become less active as they get older. This is partly because they have not been able to develop the skills and enjoyment for physical activity at a young age. By identifying these concerns in their childhood years, we are able to put strategies in place to promote a healthy lifestyle into adulthood.

Physiotherapy has been found to assist with physical performance in a child with ASD, and also can improve their sensory and repetitive behaviours.

Physiotherapy treatment can include tasks to focus on strengthening, stretching, motor planning, coordination, sensory regulation, processing skill acquisition, physical fitness, and motor function. This can be done through games, obstacle courses, hydrotherapy, dance, and many other fun activities.

What Is an Occupational Therapy Evaluation? (with pictures)

Treatment is always individualised to the child’s physical requirements along with their social and communication needs. Physiotherapists can also provide advice regarding footwear, orthotics, equipment, sport participation, chairs for school and home, posture, and physical activity.

If you feel your child could benefit from Physiotherapy call Coastal Physiotherapy’s Burnie clinic on 64314586. Our Physiotherapist Sarah Cowgill has had extra training in paediatric physiotherapy and ASD management.