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  • Writer's picturePhysical Therapy International Service

Developmental Conditions 

Authors: Aiyannah Wilson, Alena Combes- Baldwin, Nazjae Arthurton, Sarina Brown 

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurological and developmental disorder. Anyone at any age can be diagnosed with autism. Autism can impact socializing/communicating, learning, and behaving. These symptoms can appear within the first two years of life. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), autism is its own category. 

In the realm of physical therapy, a comprehensive understanding of the incidence and prevalence of ASD is essential. Recent studies estimate that approximately 1 in 54 children in the United States are diagnosed with ASD, representing a significant and growing portion of the population. Various factors contribute to the development of this condition, including genetic predisposition, advanced parental age, prenatal exposures such as maternal infection or medication, and complications during pregnancy or birth. By recognizing these risk factors, physical therapists can implement early interventions and personalized treatment plans, optimizing outcomes and improving the overall well-being of individuals living with autism spectrum disorder.

Due to this being a developmental disorder, the brain and parts of it are impacted when one has autism or is on the spectrum. In studies, it is stated that the cerebellum and amygdala are different in someone on the spectrum, gastrointestinal (GI) system and immune system are all impacted when someone has autism. For the brain, there is a decrease in purkinje fibers and granular cells. For the GI, at least 80% of people with autism usually have abdominal pain, constipation, and end up developing gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). For the immune system, children typically have an increase in autoimmune disease(s) as there are imbalances with the cytokines in the body. 

Autism spectrum disorder is a complex condition characterized by neurological and developmental differences. People with autism may have different brain structures and connectivity, which can lead to atypical patterns of connectivity between different areas of the brain. They may also experience hypersensitivity or hyposensitivity to certain stimuli, which can affect their behavior and social interactions. Executive functioning skills and motor coordination may be impaired, and repetitive movements are common. Autism is a spectrum disorder, and each person with autism has unique abilities and talents alongside their challenges. Understanding and supporting the diverse needs of people with autism requires a holistic approach that considers their neurological differences, individual strengths, and preferences. Autism can cause motor coordination difficulties, impacting gross motor skills like walking, running, jumping, and throwing. These issues may be linked to brain development or sensory processing. Planning and executing movements effectively may be challenging, affecting activities like sports, biking, or physical games. Autistic individuals may exhibit repetitive movements, like rocking, spinning, hand-flapping, and pacing, impacting overall motor behavior and coordination.

There are some red flags that can be indicative of a developmental disability such as autism spectrum disorder. The symptoms and severity are different for every child. Studies have shown that autism is four to five times more common among boys than girls. Here are a few warnings that may indicate a problem:

  1. Children with autism may exhibit delays in developing speech and language skills, some examples may be if by 12 months there is no babbling or by 16 months there has not been a word spoken.

  2. Children with autism tend to lack social understanding and interest in interaction. For example, displaying aggression towards others, not knowing how to seek out play, connect with others or make friends, or not showing enthusiasm during interactions.

  3. Children with certain types of autism can have hypersensitive sensation that is shown by resistance to touch and cuddling, sensitive to loud noise and unusual reactions to light, taste, smells, textures and sounds.

In school-based settings, interventions for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) involve a collaborative approach, including physical therapy alongside educators and other specialists. Physical therapists tailor interventions to address motor skills, sensory integration, and coordination challenges, employing activities like sensory-motor exercises and adaptive physical education programs. For adults with ASD, beneficial interventions include physical activity programs promoting motor skills and overall health, occupational therapy for daily task management, and counseling or support groups for emotional well-being and social support. Collaborating with healthcare professionals helps individuals with ASD access tailored interventions to meet their specific needs and goals.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a group of developmental disabilities that can involve learning, thinking and problem-solving challenges. Physical therapists are movement experts that play a crucial role in comprehensive care and support for individuals with autism. Physical therapists work collaboratively with other healthcare professionals, educators and caregivers to develop personalized treatment plans to enhance functional ability and quality of life. PTs help individuals with ASD develop movement skills to promote physical activity through hands-on care, patient education and prescribed movement. PTs also assist with improving their mental well-being helping individuals with ASD reach their full potential and lead fulfilling lives.

The intersection of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and healthcare, particularly in the realm of physical therapy, emphasizes the need for tailored and comprehensive approaches to address the diverse needs of individuals with ASD. By exploring current practices and challenges, it becomes clear that holistic, patient-centered care models are essential for promoting optimal health outcomes and quality of life for individuals on the autism spectrum. Moving forward, healthcare professionals, including physical therapists, need specialized training and education to better understand the unique characteristics of ASD and develop effective interventions that cater to individual strengths and challenges. By fostering collaboration among multidisciplinary teams and embracing evidence-based practices, we can create inclusive healthcare environments where individuals with ASD receive the support and resources they need to thrive physically, emotionally, and socially.


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