How Autism Affects Physical Development?

An individual with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) does not always show every symptom of the disorder. On the other hand, there are some symptoms that are typically observed. These symptoms should be recognized beforehand because it is important for education and training. The earlier the training is the easier it is for an individual with autism to get used to the daily life routine. In addition, families learn to act according to the child by understanding how they should approach their children with autism.



In general, symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorders are manifested in 3 different titles. At least two of these symptoms in those titles should be observed. These 3 main titles are problems of social interactions, communication problems, and limited and repetitive problems.

Now, I will mention those limited and repetitive behaviors which are related to physicality. After that, there will be some information about what is physical development, the comparison between normally developed children and children with ASD in physical development, and how autism affects physical development. Moreover, I will continue with children with autism needs what kind of training or exercises in order to improve and develop their movements for making easier their physical activities.

Physical Development


Physical development is the development of all organs that make up the face and body, neck elongation, weight gain, development of bones, emergence and change of teeth, muscle, brain and all systems (nervous system, urinary system, digestive system, respiratory system, circulating system) and the development of sensory organs.



Although development lasts a lifetime, it can be seen more clearly and obviously in childhood than in all other periods.

It is known that physical development affects almost all human life. Especially in the fastest periods of human development, which are infancy and adolescence, changes occur more visible. The healthy development of these periods in which the development is fast provides better qualities and growth for later life.

Parents and teachers should follow and observe the physical changes related to the development of children and if they would see any disruption, parents should take their children to the professionalists in order to understand what the problem is.

After the diagnosis, parents should become familiar with the appropriate treatment plan which is designed for their child. Parents should take an active and important role in that process. Later on, parents can assist their children with ASD in order to develop their own understanding of the importance of a child’s physical development.

Physical development mostly composed of gross motor movements and fine motor movements.

Gross Motor Development


It requires whole-body movements and involves large muscles of the body. Difficulties with gross motor movements involve anything which relies on balance, motor control, and body awareness.



For example; walking, running, jumping, swimming, bouncing, climbing, cycling, dancing, dribbling. Although there are some exceptions, they occur often spontaneous.

Fine Motor Development


It requires small muscle groups which are hand and finger. They are movements that requiring attention and concentration. For hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills and visual development are crucial.



For example; writing, painting, cutting with scissors, tying the shoelace, button buttoning, dressing, opening and closing the zipper, combing hair, eating with a knife.

The development of the basic movement is very important for the child. Because it forms the basis for learning more complex behaviors. The development of these skills provides a basis for the development of other body movements and helps to achieve more complex movements.

Planning underlies most of the motor skills. It means knowing that what you want your body to do and coordinating your movements in order to do that.



For instance; Before picking up a ball, you should plan to lean out, grab the ball with your fingers and between your hands, bring it to your chest, and then straighten your body up. And of course, while doing those steps, you must maintain your balance. Motor planning problems could be a core deficit of autism or a sign of nervous system abnormalities.

Physical Development in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder


Even there are not many differences between children with autism and normally developed children in terms of physical appearance, there are significant differences in motor development.

Differences in Physical Appearance


When you look at the child with autism’s face, most of the time you cannot notice that he or she has ASD. Because the symptoms cannot be seen from the face. Stated in other words, there would be no difference between normally developed children and children with autism while looking at facial features.



Furthermore, there are some studies claim that individuals with autism are described as physically attractive in their childhood periods. However, higher than normal abnormalities in terms of physicality are linked to ASD. These higher than normal abnormalities include minor physical anomalies.

For example; The upper part of the face is larger, especially the large and large eyes that are noticed; the middle part of the face, especially the cheeks and nose are shorter and flattened; the lips, especially the middle of the upper lip and the groove under the nose, are wide.

Some of these characteristics are subtle differences, and researchers report that these differences occur as a result of recording and examining the head and face images of each child involved in the study with a three-dimensional camera system.

Other than facial features, children with ASD between the ages of 2 and 7 tend to be shorter than normally developed populations.



On the other hand, some individuals with ASD have a certain gracefulness and bodily agility. However, others can display poor balance, uncoordinated gait, impaired gross and fine motor skills, and motor awkwardness from infancy to adulthood.

From time to time, children with autism appear to have a different appearance in their postures and hands. For example; walking at the toes, repeating certain movements, swinging back and forth on one foot, turning around themselves. In the meantime, professionalists consider hyperactivity (over mobility) and hypoactivity (low mobility) as other motor movement characteristics

Differences in Motor Development


It is thought that the difference in the physical-motor development of children with ASD is not due to the inadequate development of their imitation skills since they are not sufficiently concerned with their environment.

In the beginning, Leo Kanner stated that children with autism had the same motor development as normally developed children. After some point, he changed that claim. Even if these children have a normal physical appearance, there are differences and impairments in the development of motor skills compare to their peers. Although it seems that they will be able to perform every skill in their normal time as a physical structure, the development of some skills would be late.

Autism Spectrum Disorder in children often results in delays in their physical development. It affects the lower brain which is a responsible center for the individual’s balance and coordination. The muscle tone of children with ASD may also be different from that of normally developed children.



The development of motor skills in children with autism is generally close to their chronological ages. These children may experience some problems with the movement in accordance with the directive and in the serialization of the movement. For example; Mostly it could be in inadequacy in fine motor skills such as throwing cubes into a box, paper cutting with scissors.

Sometimes both gross motor movements and fine motor movements are affected by ASD. Adjusting the tightness or relaxation of the muscles is an activity of the lower brain. And this lower brain can be affected by autism. Therefore, making smooth movements and the passage of muscles can be difficult.

For individuals with autism, lack of a mental map of the body and not having the capability of adjusting to gravity often interfere with their gross motor movements. These impairments can result in those individuals’ movements as slow and unpredictable.



Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder have learned later compared to normally developed children, depending on whether there is little or no ability to mimic some movements that require the use of gross muscle motor skills. For example; skipping rope, dancing, running. It seems that also their small muscle motor skills are weak, such as paper cutting, box cube throwing, stringing bead stringing, drawing, music-making.

This issue, which is unhealthy physical development in children with ASD, makes regular gym courses, sports, and training difficult. It means that organized and planned regular movement programs and training are very challenging for children with autism. At the same time, those pieces of training are healthful for both them and normally developed children.



Although individuals with ASD do things quickly and skillfully if they want to do when if someone asks them to do things that are not of their interest, there would be disruption to their actions.

Some children with Autism Spectrum Disorder probably have problems learning how to chew lumpy food because of the difficulties that they have in coordinating the chewing and swallowing muscles. Because of this reason, parents should crush or smash food for them from infancy to the time when they learn.

The development of the basic movement is important for the child in order to learn more complex behaviors. The development of these skills provides a basis for the development of other body movements and helps to achieve more complex movements.



For these reasons, parents should direct their children with ASD to any branch of sport, especially swimming, from pre-school age, and also motor skills study programs that are used in Special Education will affect their development positively.

Physical Education


Physical education is required for children and youth who qualify for special education services because of a specific disability or developmental delay. Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder are the ones who require special education services.

While working with children with ASD, you should keep in mind that autism is a spectrum disorder. It means every individual does not have to display every symptom in the same way. So, what works for one child may not work for another child.



First of all, you have to presume competence. Instead of simplifying the activity, you should give a chance to try. You should assume that he/she has the capability of doing that activity. Even the child couldn’t achieve it because of incapability of movements or visions, it gives him or her a sense of achievement.

In addition, varying tasks could be useful in physical education. For instance, imagine yourself in a running class in order to teach to run with a bent elbow instead of a straight arm. First, you can apply this method in a short practice run. Second, you can move on to lively running games like a chase. Then, you can combine both of them step by step. It can be useful in terms of mind mapping and motor movements.

Team Sports for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder


Team sports that require ball play require a high level of strength and coordination. On the other hand, autism often causes muscle tone weakness and coordination problems. As a result, sports can be a challenging activity for children with autism.



Team sports are usually played in very hot, cold, high, or bright environments. Besides the physical inadequacies, loud sounds, bright lights, and temperature extremes create sensory difficulties that are difficult to overcome for most individuals with autism. These stimuli can cause a very unhappy or even uncooperative child.

However, many groups and teams are willing to give individuals with autism the opportunity to participate in team sports. If your child seems to be interested, you can search for schools and teams that offer sporting opportunities for children with autism. Every team sport, that can be perfect for your child, does not have to require a high level of communication, cooperation, or sufficient motor movements. some of them may add an individual athlete as a valuable team member.

On the other hand, there are some team sports without playing with a ball which could be more appropriate for children with autism such as swimming and athletism.



Swimming; Children with autism who have a hard time playing ball can develop with basic strokes and typical water games.

Athletism: For children with autism, it could be a great way to work muscles and make more flexible their bodies. It can be both in a team sport or individual.

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