What does movement have to do with Autism, you ask? In short, EVERYTHING! Movement is the way we interact with our environment, one of the ways we make sense of all the information around us, and the way we turn our will into action! Even something that seems so based in the brain, like writing or typing our thoughts down, involves movement to actually get those thoughts onto paper or into a computer. 

But what if the wiring in your brain telling your body to move a certain way wasn’t communicating that information effectively?

Or what if the information you were getting from your environment, like the sights or feelings around you were coming in as too bright, too sharp, or not clear enough?

What if you couldn’t necessarily tell where your body was in relation to your environment or where your legs and arms were while walking around?

It would be so much harder for you to get around without knocking into things, to react to your environment in the safest way, move the way you wanted, and keep your stress level down while doing all of these things, right?!

These are just some of the small or large mountains that a person with Autism needs to climb on a daily basis to feel like their normal selves and to engage with our crazy world. Movement can be overwhelming and difficult to coordinate or extra movements may be necessary to feel where their bodies are in space. With the many lenses we can look through from a therapy perspective, we often land on the tie between Autism and movement and want to discuss the connection and why children with Autism may be inclined to move more and to move in their own individual way.

Movement to meet sensory needs: 

  • Often, neurotypical people take the ordered processing of environmental sensory input for granted. There are many ways that valuable information from the environment can be altered as the brain and body perceive it. It can not be perceived enough or perceived too intensely by the body and the brain. Below we are going to talk about multiple sensory systems that can be affected and how that may cause changes in movement.
  • Our vestibular system senses movement and contributes to our sense of balance. When someone does not perceive vestibular input strongly enough, they may partake in a lot of extra rocking or spinning movements. This may help them get a better sense of where their body is and how gravity is affecting them, so they don’t just feel like they are floating when they move.
  • Our proprioceptive system tells us where our joints and limbs are, like how bent your knee is when you are going to climb a stair or that your arms are resting by your sides when sitting on the couch. If this system is not giving enough information, it may take extra effort OR over reliance on another system, like the visual system, for someone to know where their legs are while climbing the stairs, while balancing, and while walking, to name a few examples. Not perceiving enough proprioceptive input can make someone confused about where their body is at all times. To help decrease their confusion, they may seek and need extra deep pressure input from their environment. This can come in the form of pressing on things, like desks, walls, unsteadiness during movement, looking for tight squeezes and hugs, and enjoying weighted items like weighted blankets.

Movement that is Difficult to Coordinate:

  • Neurotypical people often take the ability to produce clear, coordinated movement for granted too. For some people, kicking a ball is not as simple as the brain saying “okay kick” and then their leg executing that action. Sometimes the signals get misconstrued and there is extra movement of body parts, body parts do things together when they aren’t supposed to, or balance suddenly becomes more difficult. Some people have to think about what their standing leg is doing separate from what their kicking leg is doing, separate from what their upper body is doing. And oh yeah don’t forget about coordinating the movements of your eyeballs so you can see too! It’s not always as easy as one, two, three, and sometimes can feel like one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, and so on!
  • Movement can become especially tricky to coordinate when the sensory information from the environment is perceived in a disordered way too. For example, you dodge a ball flying your way based on the fact that you see or hear that ball. You walk forward to get your cup of water from a table and know how far to walk, where the table is, how far to reach your arm, how wide the cup is, and how heavy the cup is once you pick it up. Now, Imagine if you couldn’t get your eyes to work together to see the ball coming your way… you might not move out of the way in time! OR imagine if you couldn’t feel how heavy the cup of water was and it was heavier than it felt to you… you might drop the cup! Putting all of these things together takes a lot of extra energy and effort and all the errors in perception often lead to errors in the execution of movement, even if the mover is trying their very best to do the right thing.
  • Not moving or moving slowly requires even more precise control of your movement! Many autistic children move fast and the observer may think that child has great movement control. Learn more about how that may not be true here.

Now add extra distractions of daily life to the Mix!

  • Another piece to the puzzle is the trickiness of dual tasking! Again, a neurotypical individual often takes dual tasking for granted. Dual tasking is what happens when someone walks and talks at the same time, or eats and watches a television show with ease. It gives us our ability to put one of the things we are doing on autopilot while focusing on something that takes a little bit more brain power.
  • When someone with Autism is trying to coordinate their movements as described above, it may take a decent amount of brain power. But then, a lot of the things in their environment demand a lot of attention, like the people around them or the sights, smells, sounds, and etc. So all of the thought energy that is needed to go toward their movement gets divided between movement and other things. This can create even more difficulty coordinating movement and may lead to overall disordered movement patterns as your child or adult moves through their everyday life. 

These are just some of the big reasons why movement can be tricky and discoordinated in autistic children and how it can impact os many areas of daily life, from getting dressed in the morning to social interaction. We know this is A LOT of information to take in, but this connection is an important one to make because when movement is hard, it makes coping with everyday life hard and stressful! If you feel like coordinating movement or movement with other daily tasks is sometimes tricky for your child, call (908) 543-4390 or visit our website at www.kidpt.com to schedule a FREE Discovery Visit today!

Extra reads:

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.