How can physiotherapy help my autistic child?

Posted on: 15 April 2016

Children with autism spectrum disorders have challenges in a number of ways, including physical constraints. There is growing evidence that using a range of therapies including physiotherapy can help autistic children to develop necessary motor skills, as well as provide some benefits to behaviour and communication skills

Individual sessions 

In individual sessions, the physiotherapist can look at the child's current level of motor skills and construct some exercises to help  improve these skills. Common issues for severely autistic children include issues with walking gait, which can be improved with core strength and flexibility, as well as control of the oral and facial muscles, which can affect the ability to make speech patterns. Individual sessions can be a great way to start sessions as group sessions can often be stressful and overwhelming initially. A physiotherapist with experience in working with children with autism will often be able to theme the activities to suit the areas of most interest to the child, such as a dinosaur themed program for a child that loves dinosaurs with exercises that involve walking like a dinosaur or making different dinosaur arm actions. 

Group therapy sessions

Small group therapy sessions can be useful as the child progresses through their therapy. Children can start to learn from each other and learn some skills such as sharing and taking turns, which can be very useful for children with autism. Developing these social skills can help with overall integration into mainstream schooling and help family life. Creating an enjoyable atmosphere can improve the children's eagerness to participate together in therapy to improve skills such as hand-eye co-ordination (for example, by throwing bean bags to each other) and modelling of the skills by other children with autism can help children to feel included and engaged. 

Parent training 

Finally, physiotherapists can work with parents to train them in how to do exercises with their children to build up necessary strength. This is very important as regular sessions can only develop strength so far as many exercises need to be completed daily. This can often help to reduce frustration for both the children and parents as children can express more needs and do more of their own self-care.

Getting early help for a child with autism through physiotherapy can help them to gain more independence and participate more fully in social and educational settings. A well-structured physiotherapy program can be enjoyable and fun, making it a great way to improve your child's engagement with their therapy program.