What is Physical Autism? An in Depth Understanding

Dive into understanding 'what is physical autism?' - From diagnosis, treatments, to navigating daily life.

judah schiller
Judah Schiller
April 4, 2024
Published On
April 4, 2024

Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorder

In order to comprehend the term 'physical autism', it's essential to first understand what Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is.

Definition and Symptoms of ASD

ASD is a condition related to brain development that impacts how a person perceives and socializes with others, causing problems in social interaction and communication. This disorder encompasses a range of symptoms and severities, which is why the term "spectrum" is used. ASD includes conditions that were previously considered separate — autism, Asperger's syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, and an unspecified form of pervasive developmental disorder.

Symptoms of ASD often appear early in development when there are obvious delays in language skills and social interactions. Some children with ASD show signs of delayed development before age 2 years. Some children seem to develop normally in the first year and then go through a period of regression between 18 and 24 months of age when they develop autism symptoms.

Social communication and interaction skills can be particularly challenging for individuals with ASD, with characteristics such as difficulty in understanding social cues, maintaining conversations, and forming relationships [2]. People with ASD often exhibit behaviors or interests that may appear unusual. These behaviors or interests are often rigid and repetitive in nature [2].

Factors Influencing ASD Development

ASD is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain, leading to challenges in social communication and interaction, as well as restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests. Individuals with ASD may also exhibit different ways of learning, moving, or paying attention.

Some children with ASD have difficulty learning, and some have signs of lower than normal intelligence. Others have normal to high intelligence — they learn quickly, yet have trouble communicating and applying what they know in everyday life and adjusting to social situations.

ASD can affect both cognition and development, with physical or motor impairments also potentially present in individuals with ASD. Physical therapy can help children with autism overcome developmental or motor challenges.

Understanding ASD is the first step to managing and living with the condition. The next sections will delve deeper into the physical aspects of autism, its diagnosis, treatment approaches, recent research, and what living with ASD entails.

Physical Aspects of Autism

When considering the question, "what is physical autism?", it's key to understand that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can impact both cognitive and physical development. This includes potential motor impairments that can affect how individuals with ASD navigate their environment.

Motor Skills and Autism

Children with ASD may experience physical symptoms such as difficulty coordinating muscle movement and low muscle tone. These physical manifestations of autism can result in challenges when performing gross motor skills, such as running or jumping, as well as fine motor skills, like writing or buttoning a shirt. Additionally, children with ASD are often less likely to engage in physical activity compared to their neurotypical peers.

Symptoms Examples
Difficulty Coordinating Muscle Movement Clumsiness, difficulty playing sports
Low Muscle Tone Difficulty holding up head, poor posture
Reduced Physical Activity Less engagement in sports, play, or exercise

The Role of Physical Therapy in ASD

Physical therapy is commonly recommended for children with ASD to address these motor challenges. This therapy aims to build motor skills, improve strength, posture, and balance, helping children with autism improve muscle control and strength to engage more easily with other children.

Physiotherapists can play a critical role in facilitating the participation of children with ASD in physical activities. They can assess a child's motor milestones, identify difficulties, and provide interventions to improve motor skills [3].

Physical Therapy Goals Examples
Building Motor Skills Assisting with walking, running, jumping
Improving Strength Strengthening exercises for muscles
Enhancing Posture and Balance Posture correction exercises, balance drills

Despite the widespread use of physical therapy in treating ASD, it's important to note that there is not yet solid evidence that specific therapies can enhance movement skills in individuals with ASD. Therefore, each treatment plan should be tailored to the individual's specific needs and regularly evaluated for effectiveness [4].

Diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex neurological and developmental condition that affects how an individual behaves, communicates, and interacts with others. Diagnosing ASD early is crucial to ensure individuals receive the help they need to reach their full potential. This section will focus on the process of diagnosing ASD, which involves early monitoring and screening, followed by a formal developmental evaluation.

Early Monitoring and Screening

Early monitoring of a child's development is a key step in diagnosing ASD. Parents, grandparents, early childhood education providers, and other caregivers can participate in this process. Monitoring involves observing and recording a child's growth and developmental milestones over time.

Screening, which is more formal than monitoring, plays a significant role in evaluating a child's development. It is a process recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to be conducted at specific ages to assess language, movement, thinking skills, behaviors, and emotions. If a child is at high risk for ASD or displays behaviors associated with ASD, additional screening should be done.

Formal Developmental Evaluation

Once the early monitoring and screening stages are complete, a formal developmental evaluation may be conducted. This evaluation involves an in-depth assessment by a trained specialist, such as a developmental pediatrician, child psychologist, or speech-language pathologist. They will determine whether a child meets the criteria for a developmental diagnosis, which now encompasses conditions previously diagnosed separately, such as autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome [5].

The results of a formal developmental evaluation can guide the decision on whether a child needs early intervention services. In some cases, genetic counseling and testing may also be recommended. Understanding and navigating the diagnostic process can be challenging for parents, which is why it's crucial to have the support of a doctor or healthcare provider.

In conclusion, diagnosing ASD involves a multi-step process that begins with early monitoring and screening, followed by a formal developmental evaluation. Early diagnosis is vital to ensure individuals with ASD receive the support and services they need to live fulfilling lives.

Treatment Approaches for Autism

When it comes to understanding what physical autism is, it's crucial to delve into the treatment approaches that are currently in use. These approaches can be broadly categorized into behavioral and developmental approaches and the role of medication in managing Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Behavioral and Developmental Approaches

Behavioral approaches, such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), are widely accepted among educators and healthcare professionals for treating symptoms of ASD. In these approaches, progress is tracked and measured, providing a clear view of the person's development over time.

On the other hand, developmental approaches focus on improving specific developmental skills, such as language and physical skills. For instance, Speech and Language Therapy is a common developmental therapy that helps improve speech and language understanding and use [6].

A notable developmental approach is the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM), designed for children with ASD aged 12-48 months. Rooted in the principles of Applied Behavior Analysis, it uses play, social exchanges, and shared attention in natural settings to improve language, social, and learning skills [6].

In a classroom setting, educational treatments like the TEACCH approach are provided. TEACCH focuses on consistency and visual learning to enhance academic and other outcomes for individuals with autism.

Role of Medication in Managing ASD

While there are no medications that treat the core symptoms of ASD, some medications target co-occurring symptoms that may help individuals with ASD function better. These medications can manage conditions like high energy levels, inability to focus, self-harming behavior, anxiety, depression, seizures, sleep problems, and gastrointestinal issues [6].

The table below presents a summary of the common medications used to manage co-occurring symptoms in ASD:

Medication Symptom
Stimulants High energy levels, inability to focus
Antidepressants Anxiety, depression
Antipsychotics Self-harming behavior
Anticonvulsants Seizures
Sleep aids Sleep problems
Gastrointestinal medications Gastrointestinal issues

The specific medication and dosage depend on the individual's specific symptoms and overall health condition. It's crucial for healthcare professionals to monitor the person's response to the medication and adjust the treatment plan as necessary.

By understanding the different treatment approaches for autism, including behavioral and developmental interventions and the role of medication, we can better comprehend the many facets of physical autism, ultimately leading to more effective management and support for individuals with ASD.

Recent Research on Autism

In understanding the complex nature of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), recent research has focused on two key areas: environmental factors and genetic research.

Environmental Factors and ASD

A growing body of research is suggesting that certain environmental factors, particularly those encountered during pregnancy and early infancy, may contribute to the development of ASD.

One such study found an association between ASD and a mother’s exposure to ozone pollution during the third trimester of pregnancy. Exposure to particulate matter air pollution during an infant’s first year also increased the likelihood of later ASD diagnosis.

Another intriguing area of research is the interplay between genes and the gut microbiome. A connection was found in mice lacking the CNTNAP2 gene linked to autism, which displayed unusual gut microbe populations. Notably, treatment with specific bacteria improved social behaviors in these mice, providing a potential avenue for future ASD treatments.

Genetic Research and ASD

Genetic research has long been a cornerstone in the quest to understand ASD. More than 100 genes on different chromosomes may be involved in causing Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), to varying degrees, indicating a strong genetic component to the condition.

A recent study analyzed the DNA of more than 35,584 people worldwide, including 11,986 autistic individuals, identifying variants in 102 genes linked with an increased probability of developing ASD. 53 of the identified genes were mostly associated with autism and not other developmental conditions.

Further, scientists discovered a decrease in the integrity of myelin, a protective sheath surrounding nerve cells in the brain, in mice with a syndromic form of ASD due to a gene variant-based malfunction in oligodendrocytes, the cells that produce myelin. This malfunction may impair brain development by disrupting nerve communication.

These findings underscore the intricate nature of ASD, pointing to a multifaceted interplay of genetic and environmental factors. This research not only aids in demystifying what is physical autism, but also paves the way for more targeted diagnostic and treatment strategies for those living with ASD.

Living with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Dealing with the reality of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can be a challenging journey. However, understanding what is physical autism and how to manage it can significantly improve the quality of life for those affected and their families.

Navigating Daily Life with ASD

Autism Spectrum Disorder affects how a person perceives and socializes with others, leading to challenges in social interaction and communication. It's important to recognize that ASD is a spectrum disorder, meaning the severity and range of symptoms can vary widely from person to person. Some individuals may have mild symptoms and be able to function independently, while others may need more extensive support.

Children with ASD often show signs of delayed development before age 2, such as delays in language skills and social interactions. However, with early intervention and support, many children with ASD can learn to navigate daily life successfully. There are various strategies that can be used to manage ASD, including behavioral therapy, communication therapy, educational support, and medication.

Living with ASD also involves managing limited and repetitive patterns of behavior which are a common characteristic of the disorder. This can include a strict adherence to routines, an intense focus on a narrow range of interests, and repetitive behaviors or movements.

Resources and Support for ASD

While there is currently no cure for ASD, intensive, early treatment can make a significant difference in the lives of many children. It's essential for families and individuals living with ASD to have access to resources and support. This can include:

  • Therapeutic support: This can include speech and language therapy, occupational therapy, and behavioral therapy. These types of therapy can help individuals with ASD improve their communication, social, and behavioral skills.
  • Educational resources: Many schools offer special education services for students with ASD. These services can be tailored to meet a child's unique needs and help them achieve their academic goals.
  • Community support: Support groups and community organizations can provide emotional support and practical advice for individuals with ASD and their families. These groups can also be a good way to connect with others who are facing similar challenges.
  • Healthcare providers: Regular check-ups with healthcare providers who specialize in ASD can help monitor a child's progress and adjust treatment plans as necessary.

Living with ASD can be challenging, but with the right resources and support, individuals with ASD can lead fulfilling and successful lives. It's important to remember that every person with ASD is unique, and what works for one person may not work for another. Therefore, it's crucial to explore different strategies and resources to find the best fit for each individual.


[1]: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/autism-spectrum-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20352928

[2]: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/signs.html

[3]: https://propelphysiotherapy.com/physiotherapy/physical-symptoms-of-autism-spectrum-disorder/

[4]: https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/autism/conditioninfo/treatments/physical-therapy

[5]: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/screening.html

[6]: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/treatment.html

[7]: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/what-is-the-latest-research-on-autism

[8]: https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/autism/conditioninfo/causes