Recently, I heard a news report about the growing number of children diagnosed with autism. Autism is one of a group of serious developmental problems called autism spectrum disorders (ASD) that appear in early childhood.
According to the report published March 29 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2006 and 2008 there was a significant increase in the prevalence of ASD at 14 sites across the country tracking 8-year-olds.
These sites, which are part of the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, estimated that one of every 88 children had some form of ASD in 2008.
That number represented a 23 percent increase from just two years prior. The report has prompted me to write a column on autism and the benefits of incorporating physical therapy into a comprehensive autism treatment plan.
Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder. The symptoms vary in severity, though all autism disorders affect a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others.
Children with autism may exhibit language delays, impaired gross and fine motor skills, unwillingness to interact with peers, and unusual interests. They may have difficulty walking properly, riding a bicycle, holding a fork, buttoning a shirt or tying shoelaces. Children with autism may have low muscle tone, or have trouble with coordination and sports.
All these issues can interfere with day-to-day functioning and are almost certain to interfere with social and physical development.
There is no cure for autism, but intensive, early treatment can make a big difference in the lives of many children with the disorder. Regardless of the level of ASD, physical therapy can play a vital role in helping a child improve both physical and social functioning.
An article appearing in the 2012 spring issue of “Pediatric Physical Therapy” states, “A growing body of evidence from research on autism spectrum disorder (ASD) confirms a substantial sensory motor component to ASD. Yet, policy and practice lag behind in recognizing the potential contributions of physical therapists in research, practice and education related to ASD … Physical therapists have the potential and ability to play a much greater role in ASD.”