Autism has become a more commonly recognized diagnosis by parents, teachers, and the general population. Autism is known to be a disorder characterized by social-interaction difficulties. Often, children on the Autism spectrum receive speech and occupational therapy services to help them improve their social interaction skills. While these services can make significant changes in the lives of these children, it is important to understand the role of physical therapy in treating kids on the spectrum. Research has shown that common motor skill deficits in children on the spectrum include general gross motor delays, gait (walking) abnormalities, impaired balance, and coordination difficulties with motor planning and execution.
A new research article published in the Pediatric Physical Therapy Journal’s July 2018 journal titled “Relationships Between Gross Motor Skills and Social Function in Young Boys with Autism Spectrum Disorders” has suggested a link between social skills and motor skills of young children with autism. Specifically, if a child has impairments to social function, they often have impaired balance and object manipulation. One explanation the researchers found for these findings is that when children have difficulty maintaining stability, they must use many physical and mental resources to maintain and upright position, leaving fewer mental resources available for social engagement. The ability to throw or kick a ball to a person or a target requires the use of visual feedback as well as understanding and predicting social responses from others. It is possible that overall ball skills are related to social function due to the social nature of these activities. However, it is important to recognize that gross motor ability may also be related to other areas of development- thus making physical therapy evaluation a critical component for treating children with Autism.
Being able to communicate and interact with peers is an important life skill that can help children as they grow and to be able to interact within the community. Let’s help make sure these children with Autism are getting the help they need. Improving these children’s motor skills may be the key missing to helping them improve their social skills and their overall participation.
An evaluation can be done by one of Aspire's licensed physical therapists. Our physical therapists will determine if your child could benefit from ongoing physical therapy or how to help incorporate activities into your daily schedule that will help them improve their motor skills, stability, and overall coordination. Contact Aspire for more information.
Dr. Angela Kloiber is a licensed Physical Therapist with Aspire Therapy