Can Physiotherapy Treat Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children

Can Physiotherapy Treat Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children


Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder. This means that most people on the autism spectrum have delays, differences or disorders in many areas — including gross and fine motor skills. Children on the spectrum may have low muscle tone, or may have a tough time with coordination and sports. These issues can interfere with basic day-to-day functioning — and they’re almost certain to interfere with social and physical development.

Children with autism would rarely be termed physically disabled (though there are some autistic children with very low muscle tone, which may make it difficult to sit or walk for long periods).

Autism spectrum disorders include:

  • Asperger syndrome

  • Pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS, or atypical autism)

  • Autistic disorder (classic autism)

How physiotherapy helps?
Physical therapy may be an option for children with autism who need help developing age-appropriate motor skills, have low muscle tone, or have problems with physical systems such as breathing control. Older autistic children can also benefit from carefully constructed exercise programs, which may be led by a physical therapist.

Physical therapists may work with very young children on basic motor skills such as sitting, rolling, standing and playing. They may also work with parents to teach them some techniques for helping their child build muscle strength, coordination and skills.

As children grow older, physical therapists are more likely to come to a child’s preschool or school. There, they may work on more sophisticated skills such as skipping, kicking, throwing and catching. These skills are not only important for physical development, but also for social engagement in sports, recess and general play.

Apart from the games and activities, other physical therapies required by autistic children include:

  • Treating impairments in the systems that impact motor function, such as problems with respiratory control and coordination

  • Improving posture

  • Addressing misalignments in the musculoskeletal system, such as chest wall deformities, and foot and ankle misalignments

  • Developing fitness programs for older children with autism; for example, West-Low runs a yoga program for autistic children

The earlier you start with the therapy the better. Although physiotherapy cannot totally alleviate the symptoms of ASD, in most cases it can at least help a child gain valuable skills for living a more active, enjoyable life. If your child has Autism Spectrum Disorder, contact a physiotherapist today to discuss how he or she can use physiotherapy to greatly benefit your loved one.