In 2012, Hilton Zhang et al. concluded that motor impairment constitutes a core characteristic of ASD. These motor impairments can be directly linked to some distinctive behaviour patterns that the ASD child will adopt. Some of those behaviors are ways for the brain to compensate in an effort to function in a world where they are expected to have automatic functions related to movement.
An ASD child's motor impairment is primarily a result of low tone (taking more effort for the child to contract muscles), difficulties with sensory processing, balance and coordination, and visual processing, as well as with motor planning challenges. Since movement is limited, the central nervous system does not fully complete its development and this in turn affects the child's ability to focus., pay attention, memorize and learn. This also affects the child's emotional state.
A key characteristic of an under-developed brain and central nervous system is retained primitive reflexes. Most primitive reflexes are integrated in the first year of life of the child through movement. The baby needs ample opportunity to move on its own, both on his stomach and back. To develop postural ability and balance, the muscles that bend us forward and backwards need to be equally developed and strong. If a child is born with low tone or has an aversion to movement or avoids movement, the child will not integrate all of his primitive reflexes - you will see them in children with ADD, ADHD, anxiety, phobias, Developmental Coordination Disorders...
Our team has training and experience with the systems that are affected in these children. We screen for retained primitive reflexes and start addressing them with neuro-developmental movements. We address the proprioceptive, vestibular and visual systems, muscle weakness and biomechanics and how they are affecting the child's balance and behavior.
We also work on the child's postural core and integrate all the systems within our treatment programs, We work with ABA therapists to implement some of the exercises in the child's daily routine since these exercises are essential for the child's developing brain, motor and sensory systems. We also teach these neuro-developmental movements to parents, as well as activities customized for their child's needs.
If you have any questions or would like to book an appointment we will be happy to help you.
By Liane Norman, BScPT, CAFCI, CTF
Founder ABC Pediatric Therapies & Pediatric Physio Occupational Therapy