Autistic physiotherapy

Autistic physiotherapy

In addition to the behavioural, sensory and social-emotional difficulties, many children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) will also experience difficulties with their motor skills and capabilities.

Children with ASD may achieve early gross motor milestones such as sitting, crawling and independent walking within the expected timeframes, but the quality of their movements may be immature or stereotypical when compared with their peers. These early motor skills provide the foundations for the development of later motor skills which require more refined and sophisticated motion control. As a result, children with ASD may struggle to master higher-level motor skills such as ball skills, skipping, riding a bike, balancing and hopping. These skills impact the child’s overall participation in peer and community activities, which subsequently will affect their overall development.

Some signs a child with ASD might benefit from the help of a paediatric-physiotherapist:

  • Delayed achievement of gross motor milestones
  • Difficulty with:
    • Throwing, catching, kicking or dribbling a ball
    • Jumping, hopping or skipping
    • Playing on a playground
    • Playing games or sports and keeping up with their peers
    • Participating in community recreational or sporting programs
    • Learning new physical skills
    • Sitting in a chair properly, or for very long without fidgeting
  • Poor posture
  • Clumsiness or frequent falls
  • Toe walking

Several motors, sensory and musculoskeletal issues may be underlying the motor difficulties experienced by a child with ASD:

  • Low muscle tone – muscle tone is the level of activity present in our muscles at rest. Children with ASD often have low muscle tone, which means that they require to use more strength and energy to move, and also alters the sensory feedback a child receives through their muscles when they move.
  • Motor planning difficulties – this affects the child’s ability to optimally time, sequence and execute a movement. This is often seen as clumsiness, frequent falls, poor balance, or poor coordination.
  • Poor core strength – as a result of their low muscle tone and motor planning difficulties, children with ASD often also have poor core strength. Children with ASD have difficulty recruiting the correct muscles in their core and lack the strength and endurance to enable them to engage these muscles for functional activities.
  • Poor posture – often develops as a result of the low muscle tone and poor core strength, and impacts on a child’s ability to master more sophisticated motor skills, fine motor skills, and can also impact their attention and participation in the classroom or at school.
  • Tight muscles and joints – these develop as a result of the poor motor strategies and posture.
  • Delayed achievement of, poor or inefficient balance reactions – these include the child’s automatic reactions to keep themselves upright when they start to lose their balance, and the automatic protective reactions to protect themselves from injuries when they fall.

A physiotherapist experienced in paediatrics will assess the child’s overall motor functioning, identify the underlying difficulties, and provide an intervention program to help, address or improve these difficulties and subsequently the child’s overall functioning. Strategies that may be used as part of a physiotherapy intervention plan include:

  • Specific exercises or activities for muscle strength, posture, endurance, motor planning and balance reactions.
  • Sensory feedback strategies to improve a child’s awareness of their body posture and movements.
  • Recommendations for taping, orthotics, and/or other bracing or positioning strategies and equipment to enhance the child’s body alignment, posture and body awareness during functional or physical activities.
  • Recommendations and support to participate in community-based physical activity programs that will support their physical skills and endurance.

Physiotherapy can be a key ingredient in the treatment of motor difficulties for children with ASD. If you are concerned about your child’s development or their motor skills or have a child you are working with who you think might benefit from physiotherapy intervention, please contact us at NIMS PHYSIOTHERAPY DEPARTMENT so we can assist them to achieve the best possible outcomes.

Physiotherapy for autism will, in general, focus on developing the gross motor skills, such as rolling, sitting, crawling, walking, jumping etc. these skills may be impaired in some autistic children as a result of low muscle tone. Problems with gross motor skills and coordination can interfere with the child’s day to day functioning as well as affecting social and physical development.

Physiotherapists will use a wide variety of techniques and interventions to help an individual with autism to gain the most out of their movement, some of these techniques include

  • Manual therapy
  • Therapeutic exercise
  • Hippotherapy – therapeutic horseback riding
  • Vestibular rehab
  • Sensory rehab
  • Aquatic therapy
  • Recreational therapy
  • General play and so on..

All treatments will be age-appropriate and related to developmental levels. At a young age, the main focus of physiotherapy will be on basic movement skills including sitting, standing and walking. As the child ages, treatment will focus on more complex movement skills including jumping, climbing stairs, throwing and catching. These skills are vital for social engagement in sports and general play, as well as physical development.

The physiotherapist will also work closely with the child’s parents/carers and teachers to educate them on a technique that can help the child build muscle strength, gross motor and coordination skills whilst at home and within a school environment.

We are equipped with

  • CX4 four-channel electrotherapy combo machine (Roscoe, USA)
  • High power laser (A star, Poland)
  • GK3 Virtual rehab
  • Short wave diathermy
  • Moist heat
  • Electric Muscle stimulator
  • Interferential therapy
  • Traction unit
  • Treadmill
  • Transcutaneous electric nerve stimulator
  • Ultrasound
  • Pulsed electromagnetic field therapy
  • Suspension equipment
  • Multi activity work station for differently-abled
  • Climbing board and bar
  • Cycle ergometer
  • Dumbbells
  • Multigym
  • Shoulder wheel
  • Continuous passive movement machine
  • physioball 45,65,95cm
  • Hand exerciser
  • Pegboard regular
  • Weight cuff
  • Wobble board
  • Ankle exerciser
  • Parallel bar
  • Gel ball set
  • Clay, rep putty
  • Marbles
  • Weight cuff
  • Counting and colouring, sorting beads
  • Supination pronation – rainbow and zigzag type
  • Vestibular board
  • Balance pad
  • Foam roller
  • Handheld vibrator
  • Quadriceps table
  • Balance beam
  • Jelly type morph ball
  • Finger fine motor trainer
  • Activity ball Corn brush
  • Sensory sac
  • Wooden intellectual geometry
  • Balancing and eye-hand coordinator
  • Magnetic multi colour box
  • Disc swing
  • Stair with slop
  • Rope ladder four bars

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