Autism is a pervasive developmental disorder which means that a person with autism may have delays or differences in many areas of functioning including fine and gross motor skills. This is where physical therapy (PT) may be required. People with autism may also have low muscle tone, or motor planning issues which can interfere with basic day-to-day living skills and play and sports skills, which will in turn interfere with social and physical development. While most people with autism would rarely be termed physically disabled (unless they faced another physical challenge), there are often physical limitations best addressed through physical therapy.
Often included in the realm of physical therapy are dance and movement therapy, hippotherapy (therapeutic horseback riding), or aquatic therapy (therapeutic swimming). While these are specialized services that may or may not be covered under physical therapy, the programs may be helpful for your child depending upon the physical issues presented.
Physical therapists may work with very young children on basic motor skills such as sitting, rolling, standing and playing. They may also work with parents to teach them some techniques for helping their child build muscle strength, coordination and skills.
As children grow older, physical therapists are more likely to come to a child's preschool or school. There, they may work on more sophisticated skills such as skipping, kicking, throwing and catching. These skills are not only important for physical development, but also for social engagement in sports, recess and general play.
In school settings, physical therapists may pull children out to work with them one-on-one, or "push in" to typical school settings such as gym class to support children in real-life situations. It's not unusual for a physical therapist to create groups that include both typical and autistic children to work on the social aspects of physical skills. Physical therapists may also work with special education teachers and aides, gym teachers and parents to provide tools for building social/physical skills. PT’s may also work with OT’s especially if a persons’ sensory integration issues are also causing physical issues.