Physical Therapy for Children With Autism
Although deficits in communication and social skills are considered to be defining characteristics of this autism disorder, current literature, advancements, and studies, suggest impairments in motor development and motor control systems as core characteristics of children with ASD.
Autism symptoms vary from mild to severe. Many children with autism have delays in developing basic skills. Often, there is a delay in forming motor (movement) skills. In addition, participation in fitness activities is decreased in children with ASD compared to typically developing children. When studying patterns of recreational activities in children with high-functioning autism (HFA) and their peers, researchers found the greatest disparity between the 2 groups was in participation in physical activity, such as team sports, bicycling, and hiking. This finding was considered important because children with HFA have poorer fitness and higher rates of obesity than their peers. The importance of physical activity in maintaining health is well recognized.
While there is significant variability in the motor skills of children with ASD, common characteristics have been identified and include hypotonia, developmental dyspraxia, stereotypic repetitive movements, oral-motor dysfunction, clumsiness, decreased eye-hand coordination, poor balance, and impaired finger-to-thumb opposition.*
Coordination and mobility, as a part of motor skills, are necessary for children to explore and interact with their environment and to fully engage in social interactions. Physical therapists can help improve motor skills because they are movement experts. They improve quality of life through hands-on care, patient education, and prescribed movement.
A physical therapist will evaluate your child with ASD as part of “early intervening services” and then play a key role in collaborating with other ASD therapy team members for integration of physical activity into daily routines.*
*Baranek G. Efficacy of sensory and motor interventions for children with autism. J Autism Dev Disord. 2002;32(5):397-422.
What does the CDC say about Autism?
CDC works 24/7 to protect America from health, safety and security threats, both foreign and in the U.S. Click the boxes below to learn what the CDC says about ASD.
Autism Diagnosis CDC
Diagnosing ASD can be difficult since there is no medical test, like a blood test, to diagnose the disorders. Doctors look at the child’s behavior and development to make a diagnosis.
ASD can sometimes be detected at 18 months or younger. By age 2, a diagnosis by an experienced professional can be considered very reliable. However, many children do not receive a final diagnosis until much older. This delay means that children with ASD might not get the early help they need.
ASD Treatment CDC
There is currently no cure for ASD. However, research shows that early intervention treatment services can improve a child’s development. Early intervention services help children from birth to 3 years old (36 months) learn important skills. Services can include therapy to help the child talk, walk, and interact with others. Therefore, it is important to talk to your child’s doctor as soon as possible if you think your child has ASD or other developmental problem.
Even if your child has not been diagnosed with an ASD, he or she may be eligible for early intervention treatment services. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)external icon says that children under the age of 3 years (36 months) who are at risk of having developmental delays may be eligible for services. These services are provided through an early intervention system in your state. Through this system, you can ask for an evaluation.
In addition, treatment for particular symptoms, such as speech therapy for language delays, often does not need to wait for a formal ASD diagnosis.
Causes and Risk Factors CDC
We do not know all of the causes of ASD. However, we have learned that there are likely many causes for multiple types of ASD. There may be many different factors that make a child more likely to have an ASD, including environmental, biologic and genetic factors.
- Most scientists agree that genes are one of the risk factors that can make a person more likely to develop ASD.
- Children who have a sibling with ASD are at a higher risk of also having ASD.
- Individuals with certain genetic or chromosomal conditions, such as fragile X syndrome or tuberous sclerosis, can have a greater chance of having ASD.
- When taken during pregnancy, the prescription drugs valproic acid and thalidomide have been linked with a higher risk of ASD.
- There is some evidence that the critical period for developing ASD occurs before, during, and immediately after birth.
- Children born to older parents are at greater risk for having ASD.
ASD continues to be an important public health concern. Like the many families living with ASD, CDC wants to find out what causes the disorder. Understanding the factors that make a person more likely to develop ASD will help us learn more about the causes. We are currently working on one of the largest U.S. studies to date, called Study to Explore Early Development (SEED). SEED is looking at many possible risk factors for ASD, including genetic, environmental, pregnancy, and behavioral factors.
Who is Affected? CDC
ASD occurs in all racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups, but is about 4 times more common among boys than among girls.
For over a decade, CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network has been estimating the number of children with ASD in the United States. We have learned a lot about how many U. S. children have ASD. It will be important to use the same methods to track how the number of children with ASD is changing over time in order to learn more about the disorder.
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