Physical therapy can be especially helpful when started in early childhood. Physical therapists may work with very young children on basic motor skills such as sitting, rolling, standing and playing.
They may also work with parents to teach them some techniques for helping their child build muscle strength and coordination. Early interventions such as practicing dressing and grooming can help autistic children function better in daily life and combat potential roadblocks to development.
As children grow older, physical therapists are likely to come to a child’s preschool or school. There, they may work on more sophisticated skills such as skipping, kicking, throwing and catching.
These skills are not only important for physical development, but also for social engagement in sports, recess and general play.
According to Lisa Jo Rudy’s article “Physical Therapy as a Treatment for Autism” on About.com, in school settings, physical therapists may pull children out to work with them one-on-one, or in typical school settings such as gym class to support children in real-life situations.
Physical therapists may also work with special education teachers and aides, gym teachers and parents to provide tools for building social/physical skills.
Autistic children with sensory deficits typically demonstrate either an increased or decreased sensitivity to touch, sound and movement. Physical and occupational therapists use therapies involving full-body movement activities and sensory stimulation to improve how a child’s brain processes sensory information.
These therapies also enhance overall concentration, listening, comprehension, balance and coordination skills.
The website livestrong.com states that autistic children often avoid physical contact and have trouble relating to peers and adults. Physical therapy can help improve a child’s social interactions. Because physical therapy involves intervention by another person, the child needs to communicate with this person in order to accomplish a task. In some instances, a group setting may be employed, which allows autistic children to work with others toward a common goal.
The most important thing for parents to do is to act quickly whenever there is a concern about a child’s development. Talk to your child’s doctor about your concerns.
Call your local early intervention program or school system for an assessment. The earlier the intervention, the more you can help your child overcome the physical and social challenges of autism.
To learn more about the CDC study, visit cdc.gov/autism.
Oscar Soto is a licensed physical therapist and the owner of Back On Track Physical Therapy & Wellness Center. He can be reached at 655-5453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.