Autism Spectrum Disorders…Strengthening, Exercises and Coordination

For almost 20 years, children with autism have constantly re-written the books that have taught me when I was in therapy school. Every child I see never fails to amaze as to what they can do and what new teaching moment they have stored for me. I may be the therapist but their bodies and their brains are my teachers. They basically have taught me things that even the books don’t show. They have made me an out of the box thinker. Here are some thoughts….

Autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, ADD, SI, SPD….A spectrum…do they really have physical issues???…they run, they jump, they dive, they spin, they bang, they crash..regardless, YES, they do have motor most cases, look closely..are they really doing the movements right? Are they compensating? Are they timing them right? Are they on rhythm? Are they showing asymmetries? Test their movements against these parameters and prepared to be blown away.

Common Problems:

  1. Low muscle tone – If the brain does not get complete information from its proprioceptors, then how does it know how much tone to provide?
  2. Core stability and core strength – Almost all of them have major issues on this area.
  3. Left vs. Right Asymmetry – Almost 90% of children I see have a left side strength or motor planning issue. Difficulty jumping with both feet together, hopping and skipping.
  4. Rhythm and Timing – In most instances they can follow rhythm with both hands or both legs but make them do all 4’s and they fall apart…watch the jumping jacks, you’ll see.
  5. Gravity insecurity – Let their feet leave the floor and they overload…difficulty riding a trike, going up curbs, climbing up and down stairs especially with alternating steps.
  6. Depth perception as it relates to movements – They see a line on the floor and think its a step..they see the step and they think it’s just lines on a floor.
  7. Coordination and Motor Planning – clumsy indeed!!!
  8. Tiptoeing – the floor does not feel is all sensory…improve sensory processing and that heel goes down.
  9. Focus and Attention – keep it simple, make it fun, and target some sensory processing in the process.
  10. Behaviors – decreased frustration tolerance, overloads, over-stimulation, and tantrums…and you are surprised by this???

Principles I Learned:

  1. Provide a natural sequence of sensory inputs in your exercises / activities to keep the sensory processors juiced up for your session.
  2. A schedule of activities for your session will help diminish adverse reactions to change of exercises/activities…use a picture schedule if possible.
  3. Routine, routine, routine..set a routine…and watch them become your best friend.
  4. Use the power of vision..they are visual learners.
  5. Timers take away the nagging effect of humans.
  6. For difficult activities, use a reward system..BUT..make sure to wean them as they get better.
  7.  Start with a play area that has few distractions BUT..make sure to wean them in to more distracting areas..hey, the world they will live in has lots of distractions.
  8. Use weights to slow them down.
  9. Combine favorite activities with not so favorite ones to help finish the not so favorite one…Relay with writing, Obstacle course and their homework.
  10. In most cases, timeout means more work…no sitting around..that’s too easy…if you get into trouble, wouldn’t you love to just sit…thought so.
  11. The metronome is a great tool.
  12. Engage the entire body at all times..may it be bilateral or contralateral.
  13. Developing core stability and strength is a must.
  14. For the toe walkers, let them walk on a diver’s flippers…and watch the brain let the heel down.

Therapy Hut Pediatric Movement Screen:

We have learned to screen for movement problems using developmental movements. We usually incorporate this in a relay or obstacle course measuring 15 feet.

  1. Roll – They have to roll straight…if they turn..then we need to correct something.
  2. Crawl – Watch the patterns..are they correct? Watch the trunk… Is it aligned?
  3. Walk on Knees – Watch the trunk…upright? Watch that it level? Watch that gait…is it proper?
  4. Walk on Hands and Feet – Watch trunk alignment, pelvic stability and leg strength.
  5. Wheelbarrow Walk – Make sure child has the proper upper body strength and stability before fully engaging them on this movement.
  6. Run – Watch those reciprocal motions.
  7. Jump Both Feet Together – Are the feet leaving the ground at the same time? How about the landing? the distance? the height?
  8. Hop on One Leg – Are they able to do the same thing on both legs or have one leg balance issues?
  9. Skip – The rhythm is going to get you.
  10. If child is highly capable then do the backwards motion of 2 through 9.
  11. If child is even more capable, then we have modifications called X-rolls, Arm and Leg Lifts, Lunges, Get ups, and going over objects, such as jumping.
  12. Remember to use toys and other activities when doing these such as shape sorters…place shapes on one end and the container on the other.

There are lots more to share..and probably a lot more explanations..but if you have any questions, please feel free to comment. Good luck.


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