Occupational Therapy

Physical Therapy for Autism Spectrum Disorders

July 13, 2020

Pediatric Physical Therapy for Autism Spectrum Disorders North Boulder Physical TherapyIf you’re searching for pediatric physical therapy for autism spectrum disorders in Boulder, Westminster, Golden or the surrounding areas, come to a North Boulder Physical Therapy location near you. Our team of compassionate therapists will provide an assessment and personalized treatment program to address issues such as low tone, poor balance, as well as both gross and fine motor delays. We’ll work with your child’s physician, school or other support team members to achieve IFSP or IEP goals – and much more!

Motor Function in Children with ASD

In neurotypical children, movement progresses from being a baby who happily kicks his arms and legs when mom plays peek-a-boo to becoming a walking and talking toddler, and so forth. As they grow and progress, their movements and sequencing become more complex. A child will learn to climb, run and jump, as well as build strength and balance. Motor development plays a big role in their independence.

For children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD), there may be sensory processing or motor-planning challenges, as well as low muscle tone/stiffness and other delays or deficits. For example, if a child is sensitive to light or sound, they may not reach for or interact with a toy that their sensory input deems overwhelming. If they have low tone, they might be delayed in learning to roll over, crawl or walk. Any hindrance to the development of these core skills can then make it difficult for a child to develop more independent and sophisticated movements like their neurotypical counterparts. Accordingly, physicians often recommend physical therapy for autism spectrum disorders.

Depending on where delays or challenges occur during early development, children with ASD can present their motor deficiencies in any number of ways, and it will be the role of their physical therapist to help address each one. The child may lack coordination, have poor or unstable posture and be clumsy. They may have balance issues and if they fall, may not reflexively apply appropriate protective reactions such as putting a hand out to catch themselves. They may walk on their toes or very flat-footed. They can also present oral motor issues, even decreased respiratory control and abilities.

Pediatric Physical Therapy and ASD

To help children with ASD be more independent at home, in school and in their communities, pediatric physical therapy can be used to address motor skill limitations, delays and deficits. This can potentially help them participate more in school and with their peers by enabling them to “catch up” in numerous areas. Physical therapy for autism spectrum disorders may focus on any or all of these areas and more:

  • Gross Motor Skills – Using various methods a PT will focus on the body’s larger muscle groups to improve a child’s core movements such as sitting, standing, walking, running and much more.
  • Balance & Coordination – Physical therapy can be used to help a child with ASD coordinate both mind and body for smoother, more complex movements such as jumping or ascending stairs.
  • Motor Planning – Here, we will work on a child’s ability to plan and carry out non-habitual, even spontaneous actions through motor planning: ideation, sequencing, timing and execution.
  • Strength Building – To support movement, we’ll build muscle to increase endurance and reduce fatigue. We’ll also improve the postural control needed for fine motor and self-care activities.

While each treatment plan is unique, a session at North Boulder Physical Therapy will often include play activities, using balls, swings, toys and other child-friendly equipment to engage the child and encourage their participation. Our pediatric physical therapists are very caring and patient. We realize that children, whether neurotypical or ASD, have good and bad days. They might rather be at home watching TV, even feel a little too itchy in that shirt they’re wearing today. You can trust that we always go the extra mile to make the experience and every session with us both fun and as beneficial as possible.

What to Expect at the Assessment

By coming to one of our offices in Boulder, Westminster or Golden, your child will receive the very best pediatric physical therapy for autism spectrum disorders. You’re welcome and even encouraged to bring information from your physician or other specialists (such as an Occupational Therapist). This will help us design the ideal therapy program for your child. Your PT will also perform a comprehensive assessment to better determine how we can help your child and address any deficiencies.

While physical therapy primarily focuses on the musculoskeletal systems and movement, your physical therapist will also evaluate your child’s neuromuscular, cardiovascular and cardiopulmonary systems to provide a holistic approach to treatment. The assessment might include observing:

  • Sensory input and control of motor output
  • Skills/limitations of basic mobility such as walking and running
  • Skills/limitations of other gross movements – pedaling, jumping, kicking a ball
  • Balance, coordination, motor planning and protective reactions
  • Posture strength and its effect on vocalization, oral motor and breath control
  • Overuse or underuse of muscle groups affecting gait, range of motion, joints
  • Interests, motivators, play style and skills
  • Level of body and safety awareness

After this initial review, your physical therapist will develop a personalized treatment plan to address all areas that require attention. They can develop goals independently or align them with other plans, such as your child’s IFSP (Individual Family Service Plan) or IEP (Individualized Educational Program). We’ll then discuss our treatment plan with you, including recommended number of sessions and times each week, planned activities, and what follow-up exercises might be required at home. All questions are welcome.

Getting Started with North Boulder PT

If you would like to learn more about North Boulder’s pediatric physical therapy for autism spectrum disorders, please get in touch with us to schedule an appointment at a location near you – Golden, Westminster, or either of our two Boulder offices. We are in-network with more insurance companies than any other physical therapy group and can often provide next-day appointments if needed. Our team looks forward to helping your child master core motor skills, and achieve their goals!