Physical Therapy for Autism

by Sam Malone

Autism is a developmental disorder, which can affect a child's communication, behavioral and social skills. Though there is no cure for this condition, various forms of therapy can help control the symptoms to a great extent. Some of the therapies that may be recommended in the treatment of this disorder include behavioral, speech, education and creative (music, dance and art) therapy. In several instances, children suffering from autism have certain physical limitations too. In such cases doctors may also suggest that the child undergo physical therapy for autism.

In case you have a child, who is undergoing treatment for autism, you may be asked to include a physical therapist on the team of specialists. Several healthcare experts prescribe physical therapy for children with autism, in order to help them develop age-appropriate physical and motor skills, like jumping, clapping hands, skipping, hopping and throwing, kicking or catching a ball. With the help of physical therapy, a child can also gradually learn how to ride a bike. Some of the other benefits that are associated with physical therapy for children with autism include:

  • Improving posture, focus and eye contact
  • Addressing musculoskeletal misalignments in the chest wall, foot or ankle
  • Fixing impairments that affect coordination and motor functions
  • Developing a fitness routine

Physical therapy for autism can also help children who have low muscle tone or other problems with physical systems, like breathing control.

There are several physical activities that can be highly beneficial for children with autism. These physical exercises include:

  • Swimming
  • Jogging
  • Horseback riding
  • Cycling
  • Walking or running

In case you believe that your child needs help in developing motor skills, you can get a physical therapist involved even before he turns one year old. The earlier you begin physical therapy for children with autism, the better the results are likely to be.

Several physical therapists work with autistic children in a variety of locations, which include home, community settings, daycare, clinics, hospitals, fitness centers, rehab programs and public exercise programs. With older children, therapists may also get involved with preschool or school activities. This helps the child develop and improve the skills to participate in various physical activities.

According to a study published by the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders published in 1982, certain exercises like jogging, running and swimming help decrease self-stimulatory behavior in autistic kids. This in turn, increases levels of appropriate play and academic response. Repetitive activities (jogging, running and swimming) are quite similar to the repetitive behaviors associated with this disorder. Therefore, the structured routine and repetitive physical exercises serve as a more positive form of replacement behavior.

However, before trying physical therapy or any other form of treatment for autism, it is important to check with a doctor.


  1. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders;" The Effects of Physical Exercise on Self-Stimulation and Appropriate Responding in Autistic Children; L. Kern, et al.; December 1982
  2. Autism Speaks; Sports, Exercise, and the Benefits of Physical Activity for Individuals with Autism; Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., et al

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