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Physical therapy, or PT, is focused on helping children with autism improve their motor skills, coordination and sensory integration. A physical therapist can help autistic children improve posture, balance and gross motor activities such as walking, sitting and jumping. Physical therapy can also address sensory issues, helping parents better understand these problems and find better ways to cope. Research also indicates that physical therapy and other exercise programs can help improve autistic behavior. Since autistic behaviors and disabilities vary widely between individuals, your therapist will carefully tailor a program to your child’s specific challenges and goals.

Schools may provide physical therapy for autistic children. In some states, health insurance may also pay for physical therapy sessions. Parents and caregivers can choose to pay for additional physical therapy on a private basis.

Researchers agree that in order to provide maximum benefits, physical therapy intervention should begin as early as possible.

What does it involve?
When choosing a physical therapist, make sure to find a certified physical therapist who has experience working with children with autism spectrum disorders.

The first task of the physical therapist is to evaluate your child’s abilities and challenges. The physical therapist will observe the child during several activities and talk with parents about problems and goals. Together with the parents or caregivers, the physical therapist will set goals and priorities for therapy.

Physical therapy for autistic children can take many forms depending on the needs of the child. The therapist may use assisted movements to show the child more efficient ways to move. During PT, the child will try different forms of exercise designed to improve muscle tone, range of motion, and coordination. Physical therapy can also help your child develop an active lifestyle.

Approximately 80 percent of children with autism have problems processing sensory stimulation. Physical therapists may incorporate sensory integration therapy, which addresses sensory issues using several approaches. The physical therapist may utilize brushing, massage, deep touching, swings, spinning, or weighted vests to calm the child. Sensory integration therapy can help the child learn to focus attention and cope with sensory information.

Physical therapy is most effective as part of a multifaceted early intervention program.

Intended Outcomes
The goal of physical therapy in autism is to help children improve their physical abilities and better function effectively in daily life.

A 2008 article reviewed seven studies of physical therapy and autism. Researchers concluded that physical therapy exercises produced short-term improvements in stereotypical autistic behaviors. Additional studies on the relationship between autistic behaviors and exercise are ongoing.

If you pay privately for physical therapy, it can become expensive.

Depending on where you live, it may be difficult to travel to physical therapy appointments.

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