What is autism?
The simple answer is, nobody knows! No cause, or physiological reason for autism has ever been discovered. At BBP, we are following all of the research, and we can’t wait until a link is found.
Currently, an autism diagnosis is based on a checklist of behavioural characteristics, across a very broad spectrum. These include social skills, sensory issues, gross motor skills, attention span, communication, and the ability to learn. Autism is likely to affect the brain or the nervous system, but because no cause has been found, it currently comes under the mental health umbrella on the NHS.
Autism can also be referred to as ASD (autism spectrum disorder) and ASC (autism spectrum condition). Some people with autism are registered as disabled, and some people with autism also have a learning disability, which can be mild, moderate or severe. And some people with autism have much higher intelligence than the average person!
At Bumble Bee Physio, we treat children with physical difficulties as a secondary result of their autism. These range from low muscle tone or hypotonia, to tip toe walking, poor endurance, tight calf muscles, reduced gross motor skills, poor balance, and co-ordination issues.
Most of our superheroes with autism are non-verbal and use different methods to communicate with us, such as vocal sounds, PECS communication and eye pointing. As we get to know our superheroes, we have learned their likes and dislikes very well!
How can physiotherapy help?
Physiotherapy intervention is focused around promoting gross motor skills, range of movement, balance and body awareness, for participation in school and family life.
Range of movement
Some children with autism walk on their tip toes. We are unsure why, but it is thought that it may be sensory in nature. Toe walking can lead to tightness in the calf muscles, pain and discomfort, and abnormal shaped feet with a wide toe and a narrow heel. Although this foot shape may not cause physical symptoms, it can be difficult to purchase shoes for these children. We focus on active stretching for the calf muscles, as well as functional tasks to provide a different kind of stretch, such as walking over pebbles. We like to take a holistic approach to toe walking, and also treat other muscle imbalances which can cause toe walking, such as tight hamstrings and hip flexors.
Some children with autism adopt positions with a wide base of support, due to core weakness and reduced stability. At BBP, we utilise our distraction skills to make strengthening work fun, functional and goal orientated! Typical muscles we work on include the quadriceps (thighs), glutes (hips) and the core muscles of the trunk. We turn all of these exercises into games! Find out more about how we are buzzing with fun!
Gait and orthotics
Orthotics – foot braces or insoles – can be tricky to prescribe in children with autism. We are very experienced with our autistic superheroes and know what suits them best! We work closely with orthotics teams, both NHS and private, to ensure that the best foot support is prescribed! Getting this just right enables our kids to fulfil their function and reach their full potential!
Due to low muscle tone and core weakness, sometimes people with autism have reduced balance, and a ‘clumsy’ walking pattern or gait. We challenge our superheroes with tricky competitions to improve this over time. They always seem to win against the BBP team!
Sometimes, due to muscle imbalances and reduced balance skills, movement tasks are performed less efficiently in children with autism. This means gross motor skills are harder, and require more effort! We work with our ASD superheroes to improve body awareness and motor planning, enabling more energy to be reserved for the most important things in life…playing and having FUN!
Take a look at our very own superhero Mofe to see what he gets up to!
Everyone has different opinions on autism and what causes it. Here at BBP, we think that children at the severe end of the spectrum have a very different physiological diagnosis to children at the mild end of the spectrum, and we think it may be neurological in nature.
We believe that the spectrum is too big for both ends to have the same condition. Some superheroes with autism will require 24-hour support for the rest of their life, may not learn how to use a toilet, and may not learn to speak or communicate. Other superheroes will live an independent life and have higher-than-average intelligence.
In children on the severe end of the autism spectrum, physical skills are significantly affected, in a similar way to our children with neurological disorders, such as hypotonia, or low muscle tone, delayed gross motor skills, and non-verbal communication. We are hoping that some time in the near future, a ground-breaking cause will be found, which may open up different opportunities, answers, treatments, and maybe even a cure for these superheroes.
To find out how we can help your ASD superhero, come and say hi!