Children on the autism spectrum often have developmental delays, low muscle tone and trouble with gross motor coordination. These issues can affect their day-to-day functioning as well as their social and physical development. Fortunately, physical therapists (PTs) are trained to help children with autism. Here are the top five benefits of physical therapy for children on the spectrum.
1. Encourage large quality movements during therapeutic play.
During therapeutic play, PTs work with children to encourage large quality movements. For example, it’s common for children with autism to walk on their toes. To support proper walking, PTs increase ankle mobility and calf flexibility. Children with autism sometimes have trouble holding their trunk upright, too, and this can be improved with postural exercises.
2. Improve balance, coordination and gross motor skills.
Children with autism often have difficulty with coordination due to low muscle tone. Balance can be an issue, making it difficult to ride a bike or climb on the playground. Physical therapists work with young children to develop basic motor skills, such as sitting, rolling, standing and running. Some of the best therapies include swimming, dance/movement, and play therapy.
3. Increase confidence in social situations.
Even though physical therapy doesn’t directly work on socialization skills, it has a significant impact on them. Studies show that children with good gross motor skills are better at socialization and communication than those with physical delays. By working on these impairments, children have more confidence to navigate social situations.
4. Support better behavior and mood.
When children engage in therapeutic exercises, they release feel-good endorphins, improve balance and coordination and boost overall health. All of these benefits lead to better dispositions that make children more willing to interact and communicate with others. Plus, children who are tired are less likely to act out – and sleep better!
5. Provide education and support to parents.
Children with autism benefit when they have a collaborative care team on their side. Parents may not understand all of the risks associated with autism, and this can delay intervention. For example, a child with poor gait may not want to participate in sports or other activities. PTs can guide parents in the right direction in terms of sports programs, special equipment and diet and exercise.
If you have a child with autism and are looking for early intervention services, VNA Health Group’s Children and Family Health Institute. Contact us today to see if your child is a candidate for one of our early childhood development programs.