Physiotherapy for Children with Autism

Autism is a neurological development disorder. It is also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD. Autism can be experienced in many different ways, but is broadly characterised by:

  • Impaired social interactions
  • Difficulty in communicating
  • Specific behaviour patterns or trends (such as resistive, restrictive, or repetitive behaviour)

Behavioural challenges can relate to fixations on a particular activity or object, or on specific speech behaviours or patterns too. These behaviours can be challenging not just for the individual but also for their carers or loved ones.

More than 205,000 Australians live with Autism [1], and generally males are 4 times more likely than females to be autistic.

Disabled child on wheelchair is playing, learning and exercise in the outdoor city park like other people,Lifestyle of special child,Life in the education age of children,Happy disability kid concept.

Cute stuttering child girl speaking learning correct articulation or singing warm-up with speech therapist music teacher doing exercises at private lesson, speech language therapy for kid concept

Autism Referrals for Vista Healthcare

Vista Healthcare provides services to both autistic children (aged 7-18) and adults. We do not provide early-intervention support.

A phone call to our team can help determine whether Physiotherapy interventions are needed and how Vista Healthcare can provide support.

Our team can help in a range of situations, including if a child has received a diagnosis from a Paediatrician, or if they are experiencing any of the following:

  • A delay in gross motor skill development
  • Difficulty with sitting up, or maintaining good posture
  • Frequent falls or uncoordinated movements
  • Excessive tiredness or being unable to keep up with peers on the playground

Existing reports from other health practitioners (such as a paediatrician) provide useful information about the child and about any previous or current interventions, so it can be beneficial to bring those to an appointment.

How Can A Physiotherapist Help?

Physiotherapists can help Autistic children through a range of interventions.

Children with Autism often have decreased muscle tone (hypotonia) which means they can sometimes struggle with posture, or with everyday activities such as sitting in a classroom for long periods.

Interventions from a Physiotherapist may involve:

  • A walking program
  • A program to develop general strength and conditioning
  • Exercises to improve core stability
  • Exercise specific for weight loss goals

Why is Physical Therapy Beneficial for Children with Autism?

Studies[2] have demonstrated that children with Autism benefit from vigorous activity or exercises for at least 20 minutes. This has been shown to help with some of the typical ASD related behaviours including hyperactivity and aggression.

Implementing an appropriate exercise program can help children with ASD to:

  • Better engage with their environment, including school
  • Increased correctness & accuracy with academic tasks
  • Achieve weight loss (which can be important if ASD is contributing to a sedentary lifestyle)
  • Improved engagement and behaviour during exercise
  • All of which contributes to improved overall health

A Vista Healthcare Clinical Reflection on Autism


Vista Healthcare has recently been assisting a 15-year-old male who lives with Autism.

Meaningful Goals

When we began working with him, he highlighted the following meaningful goals:

  • To find behaviour management strategies to improve his behaviour
  • To improve and increase his social and community participation
  • To find ways to regulate his emotions
  • To build meaningful relationships with family and peers of his age


The initial assessment focussed on getting to know him and establishing how we could help him to achieve these goals. We made the session enjoyable and playful while obtaining the information we needed to design a meaningful plan for him.

Therapy Provided

Based on our assessment, we developed a tailored exercise program focussed on providing moderate cardiovascular and strengthening exercise. It incorporated:

  • Gait re-education
  • Recommendations regarding walking aids (including a wheelchair for long distances)
  • Stepping exercises to build up lower-limb strength (this was important as he lived in a two-storey house)

The program began with six weeks of weekly sessions, followed by fortnightly sessions.

Frequency Intensity Time Type Duration
1x per week Low – Moderate

(Rest breaks became a built-in opportunity to refocus)

30 minutes per day.

(A reflection of World Health Organisation recommendations for children)

Mixture of cardiovascular activities and strength exercises 6 weeks


The outcomes for this client were very positive. His mother had reported that they had previously were unable to complete previous programs with other therapists due to a lack of engagement

In this case though, he became engaged and would complete at least 80% of the activities in the sessions. This was a very good outcome, demonstrating that exercise therapy is a lifelong resource for the family.

Vista Healthcare was proud to deliver our caring and compassionate services to empower a family with an increased understanding of physical therapy.

Treating Autism FAQ

  • Do I need a referral to contact you?

    No.  A referral is not necessary.

    Contact the team at Vista Healthcare directly and we will be happy to discuss how we can help.

  • Is Vista Healthcare experienced at helping people with Autism Spectrum Disorder?

    Yes, absolutely.

    At Vista Healthcare our clinicians are experienced at supporting children with ASD. As an NDIS provider, we serve many people living with Autism.

    All our clinicians also engage in regular professional development. This ensures that our skills and knowledge are up to date with the very best in evidence-based practice when assisting young children and adolescents.

  • Are your programs individualised for each child?


    Every child is different, and every person with Autism is different.

    We know how important it is to understand each patient as an individual with their own specific needs.

    At Vista Healthcare, one of the most rewarding parts of our role is really connecting with patients and building up a rapport.

    This is especially important with children, and our experience suggests that when we succeed in building our patient’s trust, our treatment programs will be more effective.

  • Does Vista Healthcare use evidence-based therapy when treating Autism?

    At Vista Healthcare, all of our interventions and recommendations are evidence-based.

    Our exercise programs for children are always developed with two aims:

    1. To address the issues and goals that have been identified
    2. To ensure they are engaging for the child

    For example, if a child has a problem with their concentration or focus, we design a program that is fun for them so it can hold their attention.

    We also ensure that the program incorporates repetitive elements as we believe this helps people develop their ability to concentrate on a single task.

    Our Physiotherapy programs are always designed individually and are patient-directed, so we work towards goals that are meaningful and important to our client.

  • What happens during the initial assessment?

    When you first phone Vista Healthcare, we will ask questions to ensure we are an appropriate provider and then book a home visit.

    We travel to your home to conduct an initial assessment.

    An initial assessment will consider factors such as:

    • Age and stage of the child
    • The reason for first contacting Vista Healthcare
    • The child’s current physical activity level
    • Motivation levels
    • The presence of any fixations that interrupt normal activities
    • Challenges with regard to schooling (such as difficulty sitting for long periods)
    • General mobility, strength, balance etc
    • Recommendations surrounding walking pattern and if specialised orthotics or mobility aid would be appropriate

    Vista Healthcare is a professional provider and our clinicians uphold our values of compassion & care at all times.