Nudging a child with autism back to school after a summer break may seem akin to finding the elusive Wizard of Oz at the end of the Yellow Brick Road. It’s a journey often fraught with tension and tears. You have likely traversed a lengthy path of evaluations to reach this point; you’ve dotted your I’s and crossed your T’s, and yet the biggest hurdle of all remains: making sure your child arrives safely and happily while managing to receive the education to which he’s entitled.
Once the school bus has pulled away and you’re enjoying a much-deserved latte, take a moment to savor all that you and your child have accomplished so far.
Then, take a deep breath, grit your teeth, and move on to finding resources that can best help with the transition.
One such resource is physical therapy. At the end of summer vacation, children are faced with jarring changes to their routine, increased demands for social interaction and different physical requirements such as sitting during class or participating in sports. Pediatric physical therapy is a powerful tool to assist children in overcoming these challenges and cope with the return to school. Let’s examine three aspects of autism that can be treated through pediatric physical therapy and ways that you, as a parent, can help.
While it’s easy to assume physical therapists only help with physical development, a large part of what pediatric PT specialists do is help arm children with valuable skills to aid in socialization. They can suggest and advocate for tools that make interactions easier, including ball chairs, carpet squares, and hula hoops that help children with autism recognize personal boundaries. They can use strategies like “motor learning” to model the movement skills needed to participate in peer interactions and social games. They can also help children navigate common obstacles such as moving through crowded hallways, cafeterias, and stairways.
How You Can Help: Encourage getting out of the house during the summer. It will lessen the fear of being in new situations and also provide a repertoire of leisure activities for the whole family.
Summertime often represents a break from routines, which can have dire consequences for people on the autism spectrum. Physical therapy can help maintain a routine before children step back into the classroom. In turn, this helps them continue to succeed once classes have begun. Children may also choose to practice some of the common routines experienced in school with their PT therapist.
How You Can Help: It is important to schedule PT visits at regular intervals and at consistent times. Try to maintain waking routines, eating routines and summer-study routines as well.
Poor motor skills are a strong indicator of autism spectrum disorder. Physical therapy tailored for autism brain patterns is incredibly important to foster motor skill growth and even improve cognitive function. Some therapists will use simple exercises of coordination, tossing balls and taking the body through certain motions while other strategies are more complex therapies that link kinesthetic learning with autism’s specific challenges.
How You Can Help: Participate in these activities at home, including tossing a ball back and forth, walking on a stretch of masking tape, or navigating a homemade obstacle course.
Physical therapy can both improve cognitive function and help students focus on the differing physical demands of the school environment. It can also address the increased sensorial stimulation that will accompany a return to the classroom. To learn more about how we can help your child return to school, call More Than Words Therapy today.