Autism and your podiatrist

Apr 1, 2022

Autism Spectrum Disorder is a developmental disorder that will usually develop in early childhood. Commonly, delays and impairments may be seen in their social skills, communication and behaviour.

Autism can affect children (and adults) differently, ranging from mild to severe cases, with varying physical presentations. More often than not, children will have trouble with balance, coordination and gross motor skills (large body movements) which can affect walking and running. 

To the untrained eye, a child with autism may appear clumsy and their walk may appear less developed than other children of a similar age. They may choose more sedentary tasks and play to avoid walking and running.

 

The Autism Gait

There are several common physical signs that may present in children with ASD, including:

  • Toe Walking
  • Children with ASD are more prone to involuntarily walking on their tip toes. This can lead to a range of problems including imbalances in the leg muscles and reduced range of motion within the ankle joint. If left untreated, it can have a major impact on overall health as the body ages.
  • Low muscle tone
  • Roughly 30% of children with ASD may suffer from low muscle tone (hypotonia). This may cause the child to appear “floppy” which may result in poor physical endurance and difficulties with walking or standing for long periods of time.
  • Poor Balance 
  • May result in poor proprioception causing an awkward gait that is more pronounced when running
  • Sensory sensitivities
  • Children with ASD are often more sensitive to environmental factors. Such things as footwear, ground surfaces, shoes and socks may be intolerable.
  • Gait changes
  • Children with ASD will often take shorter and/or wider steps to create more stability.

How can your podiatrist help?

Your podiatrist will take a comprehensive medical history and conduct a thorough biomechanical examination and gait analysis. Tests may include:

  • A foot posture assessment
  • Joint range of motions tests
  • Leg, foot and muscle strength testing
  • Footwear assessment
  • Balance and coordination assessment
  • Gait analysis and biomechanical examination

Treatments can vary for each individual and are often based on severity of symptoms and results from the data your podiatrist has collected. Treatments may include but are not limited to:

  • Stretching
  • Strengthening exercises
  • Balance and proprioception exercises
  • Footwear modification and education 
  • Customised orthotic devices
  • Physiotherapy and/or exercise physiology

If you have any concerns about your child’s gait, your podiatrist can help you find a the treatment option that’s best for your child.