Can Physical Therapy Help Treat Autism?

Can Physical Therapy Help Treat Autism?

Autism is a disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive types of behavior. These impairments result in the inability to perform day to day functions and ‘fit in’ with society.


Physical therapy plays an important role in the management of children with autism, especially in the early years by maintaining or improving the following:

  • Muscle strength
  • Co-ordination
  • Daily living skills including sitting, standing and rolling

Physical therapists are highly trained professionals in the field of rehabilitation and function. A physical therapist can help both adults and children cope with the physical manifestations of autism, allowing them to interact with the people and the environment around them in an effective manner.

Improved Quality of Life with Physical Therapy

The physical therapist will not only teach, but also participate in a number of activities to help the child learn more effectively. Over a short period of time, the therapist is able to gain the trust and confidence of the child to facilitate results. All treatments are provided in a safe, controlled environment like a hospital, clinic, school or the child’s home.

One of the objectives of therapy is the improvement of the child’s social skills using group exercise and games involving other children. As they get older, the children are involved in more one-on-one training. In some situations, group therapy with other patients with autism is appropriate.

In addition, therapy helps improve posture and addresses bone and joint misalignments. The therapist may use methods such dance therapy, aquatic therapy (exercises in a swimming pool) and home exercise routines to improve the following:

  • Postural control and stability
  • Sensory perception
  • Coordination
The Importance of Continuity of Care

Working with children with autism requires a team effort between the physical therapist and family members. You can expect the therapist to be actively involved in teaching best practices to the parents and caregivers. This helps maintain continuity of care outside the clinic and in the child’s home.
Since autism impairs a child’s motor and social skills, it’s common for the child to experience a great deal of frustration in social situations. This is exactly why parents and caregivers play a critical role.

Fortunately, physical therapists, with extensive training in the body’s neurological and muscular system, can make things easier for the child and the family. Some therapists participate in advanced training courses and specialize in the treatment of children and adults with autism. The sooner a physical therapist is involved, the better. Physical therapy is committed to helping children (and adults) with autism live happy, healthy and successful lives.