Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can exhibit motor impairments that include deficits in visual-motor and bilateral coordination, low tone, motor apraxia, toe-walking, and gross motor delays. Children with ASD also have a higher incidence of obesity due to the movement difficulties that they face.
Physical activity poses a challenge for those on the spectrum due to impaired motor functioning and increased difficulty engaging in a team environment. The CDC recommends 60 minutes or more of moderate to vigorous physical activity for children aged 6-17 including daily aerobic and activities that strengthen muscles 3 days each week, however, encouraging a child for 60 minutes may prove challenging.
Physical therapists have the ability to improve motor delay impairments and decrease developmental and daily functional obstacles that exist. Physical therapists help treat motor delay problems by improving strength and gross motor skills, stretching tight and underdeveloped musculature, and increasing stability in weakened musculature. This can help children gain confidence in day-to-day activities and participation in sports.
Performing physical activity has shown to result in a reduction in stereotypical behaviors such as finger waving, arm slapping, body rocking, toy chewing, hand biting, and head banging with external reinforcement and self-monitoring. Physical activity before classroom time has also shown to have a significant correlation to staying on-task and decreasing disruptive behaviors in the classroom. In addition, there has shown to be a positive correlation between the amount of physical activity and social interaction and sensory skills of those affected by Autism.
Autism Speaks offers strategies to encourage regular physical activity! https://www.autismspeaks.org/expert-opinion/autism-exercise-benefits
Be on the lookout for Amazing Kidz Therapy exercise groups in the near future led by our physical therapist :)
By: Karly Zengel, PT, DPT