Physical Therapy and Autism Spectrum Disorders

I’ve been planning to write this post for months now and it just keeps getting put on the back burner.  But this week this article was posted online -  - and I decided now was the time! This study looked at infants who have older siblings diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and found that these infants had poorer movement than children in the general population.  The body of research about motor skills in children who are diagnosed with ASD has also been growing.

Although it is not included in the diagnostic criteria, children with all sub-types of ASD often display signs of motor impairment with studies estimating that 50 to 80 percent of children with ASD have some type of motor difficulties.  One study found such high rates of motor impairments in children with ASD that the researchers suggested that assessment of motor skills should be considered part of the routine assessment for children diagnosed with ASD. Other researchers have even hypothesized that motor impairments may be a core deficit in individuals with ASD.  Yet, despite this growing evidence of motor difficulties, physical therapy is not yet considered a core treatment for most children with ASD, and in fact there are no intervention studies in the literature yet.

When I interviewed at ICAN in April of 2009, Dan and I talked about how much physical therapy time LCA would need and we thought one, maybe two, days a week would be plenty.  But within about six months of working here I began to see more and more kiddos in speech or OT that I thought would benefit from PT services and my waitlist began to grow.  This trend has continued and this summer we hired another physical therapist, Carrie, to help us meet the needs of the families we serve.

It has been an amazing and rewarding experience to help so many kiddos learn to move their bodies in new ways. The best part for me has been seeing how getting kids moving can spark other areas of development including affective engagement, speech and language, and fine motor. This makes sense because gross motor skills are the first to develop in infants and children. Children learn a great deal through moving their bodies and exploring their environment. As was mentioned in the article I linked to above, there is a fair amount of research that suggests that poor motor development can negatively impact language, social, and cognitive development. So much of childhood play is motor based (running, jumping, climbing, playing catch, bike riding, etc) that if children with ASD don't feel confident moving their bodies it can result in increased social isolation, which is the last thing our kids need. That is why Carrie and I are so excited to be part of the amazing team here at ICAN helping kiddos get their bodies movin' and groovin'!