Child & Family Development Child & Family Development

February 2, 2014

Autism Spectrum Disorder- What can physical therapy do?

It is very common that children with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) have a hard time with fine motor skills, sensory integration, speech, and social skills.  Sometimes, if a child with ASD also has gross motor delays, they may fly under the radar because gross motor skills often seem like a relative strength in these kids.  However, lots of new research is coming out that shows that children with ASD have greater difficulties with gross motor skills than originally thought.  In fact, the South Carolina Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Program (ADDM) found that 62% of children with ASD had delays in motor development.  Another study showed that children with ASD showed delays in both gross motor and fine motor skills, which goes against the common belief that children on the autism spectrum have relative strengths in gross motor skills.

Even more important, studies are beginning to find that there is a link between poor gross motor skills and social withdrawal.  Think about it: if you were at school and recess was at a playground, but it was hard for you to walk up the stairs or climb up to the top of the jungle gym to slide down the slide, wouldn‚Äôt it be much easier for you to choose to play by yourself somewhere else?   We learn from playing with others, and if we have difficulties with our physical skills, our social skills may suffer because of it.

What role do physical therapists play?

Physical therapists are highly skilled when it comes to treating delays or abnormalities in movement and development.  As physical therapists, we can offer a unique perspective on assessing and treating the motor component that may come along with an ASD diagnosis.  Physical therapists can also play a role in determining how these motor deficits are contributing to the inability of a child to participate in daily activities.  Pediatric physical therapists are able to work on fun activities that can improve core and postural strength, coordination, motor planning, and gross motor skills, which include balance, running, jumping, stairs, and climbing.

If you have concerns about your child‚Äôs gross motor skills, contact Child and Family Development for a physical therapy evaluation. 


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3.  Esposito G, Venuti P, Apicella F, Muratori F. Analysis of unsupported gait in toddlers with autism. Brain Dev. 2011;33(5):367-373.

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