April is national Autism Awareness Month and your pediatric physical therapist is here to help if you need it. The publication, Move Forward and the American Physical Therapist Association outlines just how a physical therapist can help.
Physical therapists can work with your child, family, and educational team to help your child:
• Improve participation in daily routines at home and school
• Acquire new motor skills
• Develop better coordination and a more stable posture
• Improve reciprocal play skills, such as throwing and catching a ball with another person
• Develop motor imitation skills (seeing another person perform an action and then copying that action)
• Increase fitness and stamina
A physical therapist will conduct a thorough evaluation of your child that will typically include a health and developmental history and assessment of:
• Postural strength and control
• Functional mobility (eg, walking and running)
• Body and safety awareness
• Play skills
• Interests and motivators
• Ability to change between different activities
• Strengths and challenges in making large body movements, such as jumping, hopping, pedaling a tricycle or bicycle, and skipping
• Participation in daily routines in the home, community, and school
Your physical therapist will work with you to develop goals to help your child participate as fully as possible in daily routines at home, in the community, and at school. They will then develop a comprehensive plan to meet your child’s, and your whole family’s needs. No “standard” treatment exists for children with ASD. Each child’s challenges and goals are different. Your physical therapist will design an individual program to meet the strengths and needs of your child. They will work with you to monitor how your child progresses, and collect data to make sure that the treatment plan is leading to positive outcomes for your child.
Physical Therapy in the Early Years: Birth to Age 3
Physical therapists work with families and caregivers to increase a child’s participation in routines of daily life that are challenging. They promote opportunities during free play and structured play to develop and practice the movement skills common to your child’s age group. Physical therapists work on increasing strength and coordination, and walking safely and efficiently in all needed environments, such as negotiating stairs. Priorities may include developing imitation skills (eg, performing actions to songs like “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes”) and indoor and outdoor play skills. Guidance is provided to include structure, routines, and physical boundaries to daily activities to promote positive behaviors.
Physical Therapy in the School Years (Including Preschool): Ages 3 to 18
Physical therapists work with parents and teachers to increase awareness about the impact of ASD on school functioning. They use the latest, most effective treatments based on medical evidence to minimize each child’s challenges and help make the school experience a positive one. Physical therapists recommend modifications and accommodations to support learning. Examples include using ball chairs to reduce “out-of-seat behaviors,” and using hula hoops, carpet squares, or specially placed seating to identify personal space. They provide whole-class movement breaks, and use strategies like “motor learning” to teach the movement skills needed to participate in social games and peer interactions.
Physical therapists provide direct help when needed to improve a child’s ability to negotiate challenges, such as school bus steps, crowded hallways, cafeterias, and playgrounds. They work together with school teams to promote skills like self-regulation, listening, and taking turns. Strategies are provided to teach the child how to imitate the movement activities of other children, develop directional concepts, body and spatial awareness, and coordination as well as to promote success in physical education and fitness activities.
Physical Therapy During Adulthood: Age 18+
Physical therapists work with adults with ASD to promote success in daily life. They recommend community resources to increase movement opportunities. They develop individualized exercise routines to promote body coordination and walking skills. They work with each individual to help improve movement, function, and fitness so the individual can hold a job, function at home, and enjoy leisure activities.