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Physical Therapy: Often An Essential Autism Treatment For Children

Health & Medical Blog

If your child with autism has problems with his or her gross and/or fine motor skills, physical therapy can help. How often or for how long your child will need physical therapy depends on his or her individual needs. Consequently, it's important to have some understanding of how physical therapy can be a valuable aspect of your child's overall autism treatment plan.

What a Physical Therapist Does

Sometimes children with autism have problems running, jumping, walking, or even getting up from a chair or sitting without support. In that case, a physical therapist develops a program that focuses on addressing issues of balance, coordination, and muscle tone. But in order to know what specific motor challenges your child faces, a physical therapist will begin by carefully evaluating his or her abilities and level of physical development.

A physical therapist will base the evaluation on whether your child has mastered age-appropriate milestones for fine and gross motor skills. By testing a range of motor skills, a physical therapist can assess how well your child is able to use certain skills or whether he or she is struggling and needs physical therapy support in particular areas.

Motor Skills a Physical Therapist Will Assess

Children with autism often appear clumsy, constantly spilling or dropping things. Your child may have poor handwriting, difficulty writing on lined paper or coloring within lines, or trouble managing buttons and zippers because he or she lacks fine motor skills. Maybe your son or daughter can't run, kick a ball, or ride a bicycle because he or she lacks muscle control and coordination.

As part of your child's physical evaluation, a physical therapist may do the following:

  1. Assess your child's gait.

  2. See if he or she can bounce or catch a ball.

  3. Evaluate whether your child can run around obstacles and turn while running.

  4. Ask your child to hop on one foot to test his or her postural control.

  5. Determine whether he or she has trouble performing sequential movements.

  6. Note if your child has difficulty imitating tasks, is inconsistent in how well he or she can perform a task, or has trouble completing tasks that require the use of opposing muscle groups.

  7. Check to see if your child has the fine motor skills necessary to use eating utensils, work scissors to cut paper, and dress without help.

What a Physical Therapy Program Includes

Your child's physical therapy program may include different types of exercises to improve balance and strengthen muscles–particularly core strength, as many children on the autism spectrum have weak or unbalanced core muscles. A physical therapist may also use fitness equipment in treating your child or prescribe orthotics if your child walks on his or her toes.

What You Can Do

In addition to receiving physical therapy treatment, a physical therapist  like Spokane Sports & Physical Therapy will instruct you on the things you can do at home to support development of the motor skills your child needs to master to perform the daily tasks of life. One of the most important things you can do is to play with your child. Play tag or toss a large ball back and forth. Provide access to play equipment like swings, slides, climbing toys, and hula hoops–anything that gets your child using the muscle groups in his or her arms and legs.


23 September 2016