Autistic Spectrum Disorders

Autistic spectrum disorders are a group of disorders that affect an individual’s behaviour, communication and their social skills. The most common of these are Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome, both of which are characterised by poor social skills, impaired communication and behavioural challenges. Diagnosis of such a disorder can be made at different stages, depending upon the severity of the presentation and the characteristics that are displayed by each individual. Parents may become aware of a problem when their child struggles to achieve certain developmental milestones or, much later on, if their child presents with difficulties building language skills, expressing themselves, or showing appropriate emotion at home or at school.

Children affected by these conditions can also find difficulty with some motor skills and movement, and may therefore appear clumsy and find P.E at school and sporting activities to be challenging. ‘Toe-walking’ is a common feature of autism and is thought to be caused by alterations in the sensory processing and the vestibular (balance and movement) system.

Another common characteristic of autistic spectrum disorder is a difficulty in processing sensory information. This can alter the way in which an affected child or adult interacts with their environment and makes sense of the world around them. It can also affect their sensitivity to bright lights and to certain noises, smells, and tastes. Children and adults with these problems may dislike certain textures, having their hair or nails cut, and sudden movements of others around them. They may also have a lack of awareness of pain, hunger, temperature changes and other people around them.

Having difficulty with using appropriate language and being able to express themselves to others can be highly frustrating for children affected by these disorders, and it can impact upon their behaviour, their compliance with instructions, and structured learning at school. This does not mean that they have lower intelligence, only that the way in which they learn and process information is different to others. Individuals with Asperger’s syndrome commonly have normal to high levels of intelligence, and often have fewer obvious difficulties at school and at home. This can sometimes lead to a delayed diagnosis of their condition compared to children with more profound autistic presentations.

Some individuals affected by autistic spectrum disorders may have other associated problems such as hearing and visual impairment, learning difficulties, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and seizures. Understandably, children with these difficulties may find that going to school, socialising and making friends, and communicating at home can be incredibly challenging. This may result in reduced confidence and self-esteem and ultimately, a less-than-happy school experience.

Physiotherapy intervention is widely used in the management of children with autistic spectrum disorders. Therapy for very young children and toddlers aims at teaching specific basic movement skills, such as sitting, rolling, standing from sitting, and balance activities, incorporating play and sensory integration into the treatment sessions. Parents are shown how to reproduce these activities at home in order to provide regular stimulus and therapy for their child from an early stage in their development.

As a child grows, the training of specific motor skills and movement patterns is progressed in line with their age and their developmental needs, and is centred on their individual difficulties. Therapy sessions may incorporate activities such as skipping and running, throwing, catching and kicking a ball, and progress to more advanced balance and co-ordination rehabilitation exercises. Hydrotherapy (therapeutic exercise in water) can provide a fun environment for children who need physiotherapy intervention, fundamentally strengthening their core muscles as the child works hard whilst splashing about and kicking their legs in the pool. Water also offers a sensory stimulus which can be incorporated as part of their sensory integration programme.

Physiotherapy sessions can take place within the child’s home, but input may also be necessary from within their school environment in order to facilitate learning, communication, social interaction and involvement in sports and arts / crafts etc. Our Specialist Paediatric Team can work alongside school teachers to assist them in how to manage a child with an autistic spectrum disorder, and provide specific training if necessary to help with their development at school.

Yorkshire Children’s Physiotherapy can provide specialist physiotherapy assessment and treatment of children and young adults affected by an autistic spectrum disorder. Following a thorough assessment of your child’s difficulties and specific needs, our findings will be discussed with you and we will work together with you to formulate an appropriate physiotherapy management programme. This may take place within one of our designated clinics or at your home if you prefer. We can also be involved in providing physiotherapy treatment and support/training for the teachers at your child’s school if this is considered appropriate. Hydrotherapy sessions can be provided from three of our clinic sites should this be necessary as part of their physiotherapy treatment.

Though an autistic spectrum disorder is a life-long condition, physiotherapeutic intervention at the earliest possible stage is the most effective way to facilitate normal development and to reduce the difficulties that your child has, thus giving them the best possible potential for their future. Physiotherapists also help to support the families and carers who, in turn, can find dealing with a child with an autistic spectrum disorder incredibly challenging, both physically and emotionally.

If you would like to find out more about what we can offer at Yorkshire Children’s Physiotherapy, please do get in touch. We are happy to chat to you over the phone about our services and your child’s needs and, if necessary, we can then arrange for an initial assessment of your child.


To arrange an appointment or to speak to one of our team, please contact our Clinical Director Sarah Joice on 07908 684441. You can also email us at info@yorkshirechildrensphysiotherapy.co.uk

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