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Motor Activity in Children with Autism

Updated: Feb 19, 2021

Those who care for or know a child diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) know how large a multidisciplinary team can become when looking to provide the best growth and development. While it is important to get your child the services and care providers they need, it is also important to know what those providers will have to offer and what they can assist your child with. Physical therapy has been a relatively new addition to the care team for children with ASD, and has quickly developed an important role. In the Pediatric Physical Therapy Journal article entitled “Motor Activity in Children With Autism: A Review of Current Literature,” the authors show the importance of having a physical therapist as part of your child’s team.

The role a physical therapist plays in a child’s development can begin prior to the age of two. Early abnormalities in motor development in children with ASD were identified in the majority of studies, and they provided supporting evidence that those abnormalities lead to difficulty performing motor activities. While there are no specific movement pattern delays to indicate an ASD diagnosis, children later diagnosed with ASD were found to have delayed maturation of movement patterns. If these delays in development can be identified early, physical therapists can help limit the impact these delays can have on social interactions and participation. Likewise, postural control and motor planning challenges were found to be contributing factors to limitations in participation. These are both commonly addressed areas in physical therapy treatment for a child showing signs of developmental delay.

While previously overlooked due to a child’s ability to walk by a certain age, Physical Therapy has recently been able to play a more prominent role in the care of children with ASD. While no specific treatment strategies have been established, it was highly encouraged for treatment to focus on a child’s ability to participate and be active within the community rather than isolate treatment to specific impairments. All Physical Therapy treatment should promote the child’s ability to attend to and participate in their daily activities. This can be achieved through monitoring the child's development, promoting mature movement patterns, and increasing postural control.

Brian Heilferty, DPT

If you have questions or concerns about your child's motor development, please call 781-239-0100. Our front desk staff would be happy to put you in contact with a member of our physical therapy team!

Downey, R., & Rapport, M. J. K. (2012). Motor Activity in Children With Autism: A Review of Current Literature. Pediatric Physical Therapy, 24(1).

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