Upon hearing the term Autism Spectrum Disorder, or simply autism, many people would immediately think about cognitive impairment and problems associated with communication and socialization. What they don’t know is that autistic individuals are also susceptible to physical irregularities which may include poor motor coordination, delays in response time, and lack of muscle strength. These physical conditions can adversely affect an autistic person’s daily life by hindering the person from doing the things that they want to do or completing the tasks that can normally be accomplished even without other’s help. When these issues are not immediately addressed, it results to lower self-confidence which ultimately affects other aspects of the autistic person’s life, such as emotional and psychological stability.

Parents of autistic children are highly encouraged to sign up their kids to a physical therapy program because it is during this stage of an individual’s development where physical disabilities can be rehabilitated and irregularities can still be corrected. Like many other autism early intervention services, a physical therapy program heavily relies on the capacity of the participant to apply what they have learned and adapted to these introduced changes. The strong point of physical therapy is that the training is performed through sports activities, gym classes, and other fun and enjoyable methods.

Physical Therapist

Like many other medical practitioners who specialize in a specific area of treatment, a physical therapist cannot possibly practice without successfully complying a set of requirements and standards. The least level of educational attainment that a physical therapist should obtain is a Master’s Degree from an accredited institution that offers Physical Therapy education program after which they need to pass a national licensure examination. They also have to gain sufficient experience in the field by working as an intern in a certified health institution before they can finally practice. This is to ensure the quality of services that participants can get from a standard physical therapy program. Physical therapists are taught and trained with the most specialized educational set up to become the leading provider of strength building, mobility enhancing, and motor skills refining programs for people in need. For autistic people, a physical therapist can help provide a lasting solution to many physical issues which cannot be addressed by other health specialists.

Understanding Physical Therapy

Physical problems related to autism are often detected when a baby becomes a toddler because it is in this stage of development where more complex motor skills are expected to develop. These issues range from simple muscle weakness to lack of coordination and sense of balance. An autistic child may have the desire to do a specific thing such as playing with a swing and has the necessary motor skills to accomplish it, like climbing the belt sit and holding on to the chain. But when it comes to the actual attempt, the child will most likely fail in getting the swing to move while in the right position because their muscle coordination is not spot on and motor planning is not carried out successfully. For these reasons, the parent may find it necessary to consult a physical therapist who would assess the child’s physical condition and determine the necessary strategies and procedures in helping the kid become more physically able. The therapist can offer a wide range of therapy sessions, which include:

  • Dance and Movement Therapy – This program utilizes the therapeutic effect of music and dance in the improvement of the participant’s motion control and body coordination through the release of tension built up in the muscles.
  • Aquatic Therapy – This includes all types of water-based treatment with the aim of rehabilitating lost or impaired physical functions, and improving other basic motor skills that are not fully utilized. The activities stimulate relaxation and fun while the participants are told to stay afloat, partially submerged, or fully submerged in the water.
  • Hippotherapy – This type of therapy is most effective for autistic participants that are lacking spatial awareness and sense of balance. Hippotherapy introduces horseback riding as a means to obtain these physical skills, along with the improvement of coordination and strength.
  • Recreational Therapy – This is also an ideal therapy type for children because it employs recreational activities in achieving the same goal. While most children hesitate to perform specific tasks or activities in therapy sessions because of the lack of interest and motivation, they will have fun while in a recreational therapy.
  • Play Therapy – A type of intervention program that relies on the effectiveness of play sessions in opening up an autistic person’s self to other people. Through play therapy, an autistic child can naturally share their thoughts and feelings to the therapist.

There are still more physical therapy programs for autistic children aside from the above-mentioned popular ones. It should be noted that the type of physical therapy to be performed will mostly depend on the therapist’s assessment of the autistic person’s physical condition and their willingness to participate. These services may not usually be covered by health insurance but they are proven to be effective in the treatment of autism-related issues.

Finding a Physical Therapist

Asking your child’s school district and other early intervention program providers will most likely give you a positive response about the availability of physical therapy. There are also physical therapists in most hospitals and other health centers that you can find in your locality, but it’s most likely that the therapist you’ll find in these institutions does not specialize in autism-related problems. Most physical therapists will require the cooperation of parents in performing specific activities so the latter must always be open-minded and understanding about possible procedures and approaches that the therapist may propose to them. They may also collaborate with other types of therapists and health workers for a more convenient, reliable, and fast-paced service. The work of a physical therapist does not end inside the clinic. By following an hourly-based rate of service, the physical therapist has a more flexible schedule, which enables them to follow and observe the participant in other places of interest, such as in the school, or in the participant’s home.