While autism is considered a developmental disorder rather than a physical disability, children with this disorder will often experience a wide variety of physical symptoms, such as difficulty developing fine motor skills and decreased muscle mass. It is these symptoms that are targeted by the use of physical therapy as part of an autism treatment plan.
What Is Physical Therapy?
Physical therapy utilizes targeted exercises to help build muscle, increase flexibility, and improve coordination. Since no two patients will have the exact same physical symptoms, this type of therapy requires an individualized treatment plan for each patient.
How Can Physical Therapy Help With Autism?
Autistic children often struggle to complete tasks, such buttoning a shirt or catching a ball, due to their lack of fine motor skills. In addition to the physical limitations caused by this poor coordination, the inability to complete age-appropriate tasks may also play a role in behavioral issues. This often happens due to growing frustration with their inability to complete tasks which interest them. For instance, an autistic child who is unable to play catch with siblings or other children may respond with anger when the true emotion behind this anger is frustration.
Through the use of physical therapy, autistic children are able to improve their fine motor skills and learn alternative ways of accomplishing the task at hand. By helping to empower the child, physical therapy can also result in the improvement of behavioral problems. However, it is important to note that many autistic children experience social and behavioral problems that will require additional treatment, such as the use of play therapy.
Is Physical Therapy Right For Your Child?
Not all autistic children will experience physical symptoms. With so many varying symptoms on the autism spectrum, there really is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all treatment plan. However, if your child is experiencing problems with muscle weakness, poor hand/eye coordination, or developmental delays, the use of physical therapy can be a beneficial addition to their treatment plan. Just remember, physical therapy is designed to work hand-in-hand with the other specialized medical treatments that your child is receiving. This therapy is not typically intended to be used to replace your child's current treatment plan.
For more information on how physical therapy could benefit your specific child, be sure to talk to their primary physician about the possibility of adding physical therapy to their existing treatment plan. Facilities like Dynamic Rehabilitation Services can also help provide guidance about therapy benefits.