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Autism Spectrum Disorder & Physical Therapy

Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is used to describe a range of developmental conditions that affect how a person communicates, interacts, and behaves. ASD was once believed to be relatively rare, but is now believed to affect around 1 in 100 children worldwide. Autism is called a spectrum disorder because the symptoms and severity can vary widely from one person to another. Typical signs and symptoms of autism include having difficulty with communication and social interaction, restricted or repetitive patterns of behavior such as repeating words or phrases, lining up objects, having intense and narrow interests, and sensory issues, such as being over- or under-sensitive to sounds, lights, or textures.

Children with autism also commonly have difficulties with motor skills, which affect their daily functioning and quality of life. They may have trouble with balance, coordination, motor planning, and body control. They may also have low muscle tone, which can make them appear floppy or weak. These challenges make it hard for them to participate in physical activities like playing games or on playgrounds with peers, which are important for both their physical and mental health.

Physical therapy can help children with autism overcome these difficulties and improve their motor skills. Using individualized and structured interventions, pediatric physical therapists like the ones at physical therapy facilities help children with autism learn new skills and practice them in a fun and motivating way. Physical therapy can also help children with autism develop a positive attitude toward physical activity and enjoy the benefits of exercise, such as improved mood, energy, and sleep.

Improved gross motor skills and increased physical activity can also support the development of other areas that are affected by autism, like social and emotional skills. Physical activities can provide opportunities for children with autism to interact with their peers and family, express their feelings, and follow rules and directions. Physical therapy can also help children with autism cope with sensory issues, such as hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to touch, sound, or movement, by exposing them to different stimuli and helping them regulate their responses.

This is backed up by research. A 2020 meta-analysis of 12 studies published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health showed that physical activity had a significant positive impact on social interaction ability, communication ability, motor skills, and autism degree of autistic children as well as the social skills and communication skills of autistic adolescents.

How Do I Find A Qualified PT For My child?

If you think your child with autism may benefit from physical therapy, you should consult with your child’s pediatrician, who can refer you to a physical therapist who specializes in working with children with autism. You can also search for a physical therapist near you using the American Physical Therapy Association website.

About The Private Practice Section of the American Physical Therapy Association

Founded in 1956, the Private Practice Section of the American Physical Therapy Association champions the success of physical therapist-owned businesses. Our members are leaders and innovators in the healthcare system. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) represents more than 85,000 physical therapists, physical therapist assistants and students of physical therapy nationwide. For more information, please visit

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