How Podiatry can Help a Child with Autism

December 14, 2016

There are several ways in which autism can impact your child’s feet and sometimes a child with autism may need extra care and attention. Children with autism don’t easily integrate all the information needed to learn a new skill such as walking, or may use different pathways in their brain, which are less efficient.

sam_1204Children with autism may present to our clinic with stiffer gait, difficulties maintaining a straight line when walking, and postural abnormalities. Our podiatrists can implement a treatment plan specific to each child to help them get moving quicker and strengthen muscles as well as recommend footwear appropriate to each child. Simple but fun treatments that children want to do like trampolining to strengthen certain muscles might be prescribed.

Over 90% of those affected by autism have sensory abnormalities which can include

  • Unusual sensory interests
  • Sensory sensitivities including avoiding everyday sounds and textures
  • Over-sensitivity to their environment
  • Under-sensitivity to their environment – seeking out specific experiences

Knowing that one of these sensory differences may uniquely affect a child with autism will aslo guide the treatment plan. Over-sensitivities to the feel of certain textures will determine the footwear materials or orthotic covers needed, as will under-sensitivities may prompt the use of textured materials.

Parents can do a lot at home too.  Just knowing that a child may need extra practice and guidance when learning skills that may come easier to their age matched counterparts will help them achieve tasks that may seem daunting and difficult.  Research has found that children with autism have difficulties and delays in motor skills and development, and can be up to six months behind in gross motor skills, including running and jumping.

autism-shoe-tyingAnother study found that children with autism were nearly a year behind unaffected children of the same age in fine motor skills, such as holding a spoon or a small toy. This will also impact on learning how to put on shoes and tying shoe laces.  Again, some extra time taken to practice or perhaps using shoes with Velcro or elastic laces may be required.

Many children with autism find difficulty in understanding the gestures and actions of others.   Infants typically show less attention and smile and look at others less often. Toddlers may not have the ability to use simple movements such as pointing at things. As these children grow older they are less likely to exhibit social understanding, imitate or respond to emotions, and take turns with other children. They are also less likely to make requests for things or share their experiences. This may present a problem in a podiatry setting where a child is unable to verbalise that they are experiencing discomfort or pain when walking. Understanding that they may be less able to verbalise or use nonverbal indications of their pain may mean that a greater attention to reactions and an understanding that treatment may be indicated without the patient confirming painful symptoms, and using years of experience to successfully treat similar conditions in other age matched children.  Trial and error may play a large role in determining what is going to be successful.

Every individual on the autism spectrum is different.  Our podiatrists are trained to assess each child using information obtained from parents and carers as well as the results of the child’s assessment. If you would like your child assessed simply book now or phone our reception staff on (07) 4646 2016.

If you’ve met one person on the autism spectrum, you’ve met one person on the spectrum.’ Professor Stephen Shore

Professor Stephen Shore was diagnosed with autism and recommended for institutionalisation.  Dr Shore in addition to working with children and talking about life on the autism spectrum is internationally renowned for presentations, consultations and writings on lifespan issues pertinent to education, relationships, employment, advocacy, and disclosure.  He is a current board member of Autism Speaks, president emeritus of the Asperger’s Association of New England, and advisory board member of the Autism Society,

Background information

Autism is a developmental disorder which is diagnosed based on behavioural criteria. It is characterized by impaired social interaction, impaired verbal and non-verbal communication, restricted interests, and repetitive behaviour. Autism presents differently in each child which is why the term “spectrum” is often used.  It is important that a proper diagnosis is obtained.

Approximately one in 100 people has autism, almost 230,000 Australians, and It affects almost four times as many boys than girls.

Autism is usually noticed by parents in the first two years of their child’s life. Children with autism may play alone, have unusual interests or attachments, have difficulty coping with change, have unusual behaviours or repetitive movements such as walking on tip toes or display unusual distress or reaction to everyday sights, sounds and movements.

Learning a new motor skill relies on the brain’s ability to form complex connections between different parts of the brain that are involved in controlling the movement. This includes using sensory information from the environment and from the body to plan actions, and adapt them as needed.

Approximately one third to a half of persons with autism do not develop enough natural speech to meet their daily communication needs.

People with autism may be severely impaired in some ways but ‘normal’ or superior, in other ways.  Up to 10% of individuals with autism show some extraordinary unusual abilities, or superior skills in perception and attention.

There truly is a broad autistic spectrum, and each person with autism is unique in how they behave, develop, communicate, and sense the world around them. Understanding these differences can guide our treatment when a child with autism presents to our clinic. And of course, there is a lot we can learn from them as well.

“The world needs all kinds of minds.” ~ Dr Temple Grandin

Dr Temple Grandin. American professor of animal science at Colorado State University and world renowned autism spokesperson and livestock consultant. Dr Grandin is acknowledged as one of the most well-known and accomplished adults with autism.