How Autism Affects The Body Physically: Autism's Physical Impact

Discover how autism affects the body physically, from sensory sensitivities to motor skills, and more.

steven zauderer
Steven Zauderer
June 29, 2024
8 min read
min read

Physical Impact of Autism

Autism, a complex neurodevelopmental condition, extends beyond behavioral and cognitive challenges and can significantly impact the body physically. This article delves into how autism affects motor skills and core muscle strength, providing a comprehensive overview of the physical effects of autism.

Motor Skills and Autism

Individuals with autism often exhibit delayed development of motor skills, such as hopping, skipping, and riding a bike. This delay can significantly affect their daily activities and overall quality of life.

Moreover, sensory issues, such as overreacting to touch or sound, can further affect motor skills in autism. For example, an individual might be so bothered by the texture of grass that they avoid walking barefoot, limiting their opportunities to develop balance and coordination.

Motor difficulties in autism are diverse, ranging from mild clumsiness to severe impairments in skills like handwriting. These difficulties can be further exacerbated by repetitive behaviors common in autism, as they can interfere with developing new motor patterns [1].

Autism and Core Muscle Strength

Autism also impacts core muscle strength. Research has shown that children with autism tend to have weaker core muscles and less muscle endurance. This can impact their posture, balance, and coordination, affecting their ability to participate in physical activities, sports, and play.

Weak core muscles can also pose challenges in maintaining a correct sitting posture, which can further affect the handwriting skills of children with autism.

Understanding these physical aspects of autism is crucial in developing comprehensive care plans. Physical therapists, occupational therapists, and other healthcare professionals can provide valuable interventions to improve motor skills and strengthen core muscles, enhancing the quality of life for individuals with autism.

Autism and Sensory Processing

In understanding how autism affects the body physically, it's essential to explore the role of sensory processing. Individuals with autism often experience sensory processing challenges, which can influence their motor skills, behavior, and emotional regulation. This section delves into the concepts of sensory hypersensitivity and sensorial hyposensitivity in autism.

Sensory Hypersensitivity in Autism

Sensory hypersensitivity refers to a heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli. It can manifest in various ways among individuals with autism. For instance, individuals may have an exaggerated response to stimuli such as noise, light, touch, taste, or smell. This can lead to sensory overload, resulting in emotional outbursts or meltdowns.

These sensory sensitivities can also impact motor skills and coordination. For example, a heightened sensitivity to touch or movement can lead to challenges in adjusting posture or performing coordinated movements. This can further influence how individuals with autism perceive and respond to their environment.

Addressing sensory hypersensitivity is crucial for managing these challenges and improving the individual's well-being. This can involve strategies such as creating a sensory-friendly environment, using sensory aids, and incorporating occupational therapy interventions that focus on sensory integration.

Sensorial Hyposensitivity in Autism

On the other end of the spectrum, individuals with autism may exhibit sensorial hyposensitivity, which refers to decreased awareness of sensory stimuli. In other words, they might respond less to sensory inputs or have a higher threshold for sensory information.

This hypo-reactivity to stimuli can also influence motor skills and movement. For instance, decreased sensitivity to proprioceptive input (information about body position and movement) can result in coordination difficulties and challenges in performing complex motor tasks.

Managing sensorial hyposensitivity often involves providing enhanced or additional sensory stimuli to help individuals with autism better perceive and interact with their environment. This can be achieved through various therapeutic strategies, including sensory integration therapy, physical therapy, and the use of sensory aids.

In conclusion, sensory processing is a significant aspect of how autism affects the body physically. By understanding sensory hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity, we can better understand the physical impact of autism and develop effective strategies to support individuals with these challenges.

Autism and Comorbidities

Understanding the physical impact of autism involves examining the comorbidities typically associated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). These include conditions such as sleep disorders and seizures, which show a higher prevalence in children with ASD as compared to typically developing children.

Sleep Disorders in Autism

Sleep disorders are one of the most prevalent comorbidities associated with ASD. A study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders in November 2020 reported that 58.4% of children with ASD have sleep disorders, compared to 11.5% of typically developing children.

The study, which used data from the National Survey of Children's Health (NSCH) representing over 40,000 children aged 3 to 17, further emphasizes the importance of healthcare providers being aware of these comorbidities for early recognition and management of necessary therapeutics for children with ASD.

Comorbidity Percentage in children with ASD Percentage in typically developing children
Sleep disorders 58.4% 11.5%

Autism and Seizures

Seizures are another significant comorbidity associated with ASD. The same study found that 23% of children with ASD have seizures, compared to just 0.5% of typically developing children.

This statistic underscores the importance of regular neurological evaluations for children with ASD to ensure early detection and treatment of potential seizure disorders.

Comorbidity Percentage in children with ASD Percentage in typically developing children
Seizures 23% 0.5%

Understanding these comorbidities and their prevalence in children with ASD is crucial to providing comprehensive care and support for children with autism, and highlights the deep physical impact it can have. This essential knowledge can guide targeted interventions and management strategies that address the specific needs of children with ASD, helping them to lead healthier and more comfortable lives.

Gastrointestinal Issues and Autism

Investigating the physical impact of autism, one must not overlook the noteworthy gastrointestinal issues often associated with the condition. These issues can be influenced or exacerbated by certain dietary factors and the overall health of the gut.

Dietary Factors and Autism

Gastrointestinal symptoms such as constipation, diarrhea, and gastroesophageal reflux are prevalent in individuals with autism, potentially due to sensory processing issues or dietary factors. These symptoms can occur more frequently in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) compared to those without this condition. The exact cause remains unclear, but variations in gut bacteria and altered metabolism have been suggested as possible factors.

Children with ASD may find it more challenging to express their discomfort when experiencing gastrointestinal problems, leading to potential behavioral challenges. Early recognition and management of these symptoms can assist in managing these behavioral challenges.

Gut Health in Autism

Intriguingly, certain studies suggest that a subset of children with ASD may have a condition termed "leaky gut" or increased intestinal permeability. In this case, their intestines allow larger molecules to pass through, potentially triggering an immune response or inflammation. However, further research is needed to fully comprehend this association.

The presence of abnormal gut bacteria, altered gut motility, and increased intestinal permeability in children with ASD may contribute to the link between ASD and gastrointestinal symptoms. Understanding these associations can be crucial for developing targeted treatments that address both the behavioral and physical symptoms in children with ASD.

Understanding the physical impact of autism, especially the gastrointestinal issues, is imperative. It provides insight into how autism affects the body physically and informs the development of targeted treatments to improve the quality of life for individuals with autism.

Autism and Genetic Conditions

When examining how autism affects the body physically, it's important to delve into the genetic conditions that often accompany autism. These conditions can play a significant role in the physical manifestations of autism, ranging from motor skills to immune system function.

Fragile X Syndrome and Autism

One such condition is Fragile X syndrome, which exhibits a known correlation with autism. Fragile X syndrome is the most common known cause of inherited intellectual disability and autism spectrum disorder. In fact, children with autism might have a range of genetic conditions, such as Fragile X syndrome, that can affect how their body works [8].

Both autism and Fragile X syndrome share common genetic factors, which could explain the overlap in their physical manifestations. These can include intellectual disability, developmental delays, and certain physical traits.

Autism and Genetic Predispositions

Apart from specific genetic conditions like Fragile X syndrome, general genetic predispositions also play a role in the development of autism. Certain genes have been associated with an increased risk of autism spectrum disorder. These genetic elements can influence multiple aspects of physical health, potentially leading to immune system disorders, mitochondrial dysfunction, and dysregulation of iron metabolism [9].

Genetic testing can be a valuable tool in identifying these genetic conditions or mutations associated with autism. By providing a clearer picture of an individual's genetic profile, it can help in forming a more accurate diagnosis and crafting personalized treatment approaches [9].

In summarizing, genetics play a substantial part in how autism affects the body physically. Understanding these genetic factors can provide further insight into the complex relationship between autism and physical health, which is essential in managing autism's physical impact effectively.

Coping with Autism's Physical Impact

Understanding how autism affects the body physically can provide invaluable insights for managing its impact. One area that often requires attention is the sensory processing difficulties often co-occurring with motor impairments in individuals with autism. These challenges can influence how they perceive and respond to sensory information in their environment, potentially leading to heightened sensitivities or decreased awareness of stimuli.

Strategies for Managing Sensory Issues

Sensory sensitivities in individuals with autism can manifest in various ways, such as having a heightened sensitivity to noise, light, touch, taste, or smell. On the contrary, individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) may also show hypo-reactivity, which means they might respond less to sensory stimuli or have a higher threshold for sensory inputs.

Sensory processing challenges can lead to difficulties in regulating emotions and behavior in individuals with autism. For example, sensory overload can result in meltdowns or emotional outbursts. Therefore, addressing sensory needs is essential for managing these challenges and improving the individual's well-being.

Strategies for managing sensory issues can include:

  • Creating a sensory-friendly environment: This can involve reducing exposure to sensory triggers and incorporating calming sensory experiences. For instance, use of noise-cancelling headphones for noise sensitivity or weighted blankets for proprioceptive input.
  • Sensory diet: A personalized activity plan that provides the sensory input a person needs to stay focused and organized throughout the day. Activities might involve deep pressure, vestibular activities, or tactile play.
  • Use of assistive tools: Items such as fidget toys, chewable jewelry, or textured materials can provide sensory input and help manage sensory sensitivities.

Therapies for Motor Skill Development

Some individuals with autism may exhibit repetitive movements or stereotypical behaviors, known as stereotypies, which can manifest as body rocking, hand flapping, or spinning, potentially serving as self-regulating behaviors or responses to sensory input.

Early identification and intervention targeting motor skills and sensory processing in children with autism can help improve their motor performance, enhance their participation in activities, and support their overall development and well-being. Therapies for motor skill development can include:

  • Occupational therapy: Focuses on improving fine motor skills like writing or buttoning a shirt, gross motor skills like jumping and running, and coordination.
  • Physical therapy: Helps improve gross motor skills and physical strength and coordination.
  • Sensory integration therapy: Helps the individual respond to sensory stimuli in a more adaptive manner, reducing sensory sensitivities and improving motor skills.

By understanding the physical impact of autism and employing the appropriate strategies and therapies, it is possible to help those with autism navigate their sensory world and improve their motor skills, enhancing their overall quality of life.











steven zauderer

CEO of CrossRiverTherapy - a national ABA therapy company based in the USA.

Table of Contents