Walking on the toes or the balls of the feet, also known as toe walking, is fairly common in children just beginning to walk, especially those with autism.
A child cannot be able to make heel-to-ground contact when they are in the initial stages of the gait cycle, which is when children are learning how to walk.
Most infants will begin to walk on their toes intermittently before they are two years old.
However, with most children, this naturally stops between six months and two years of age. Toe walking is not considered consistent unless it continues after the child is two years old.
If toe walking persists after the two-year mark, it could show possible concerns of neurological development in a child.
However, it is essential to understand toe walking because it is not only related to autism.
Autism is known to affect a child's ability to communicate and interact with other people, and toe walking can also be a result of autism because it can impede the child's capability of cognitive growth and development.
When a child begins to get older, their brain naturally trains them to walk normally.
However, with autistic children, this can sometimes be a sign of their autism because their brain isn't developing enough to help them learn and adapt to walking normally, rather than toe walking.
When toe walking, your child could be causing damage to their calf and lower leg muscles.
Therefore, it is essential that you know exercises and stretches that can assist in helping to correct your child's toe-walking habit, and the younger you begin working on it, the less damage toe walking could have.
Here are some of the early intervention stretches both passive and static that you can use to help with the foot muscles:
Physical therapy or serial casting are two things that professionals might consider to help with toe walking before any kind of medical intervention, like surgery, is considered.
Before you get to the point of medical intervention, here are a few active stretches and strengthening exercises that you might try with your child who experiences toe walking.
Most children grow out of toe walking, but when it comes to children with autism, might need some help to grow out of toe walking. There are medical and surgical options that can force a child to learn to stop toe walking, but these should only be used during extreme cases.
If you notice that your child is consistently toe walking after they are two years old, it might be a sign that they have some degree of autism, but there isn't a need to worry.
There are plenty of ways to correct toe walking that will not require medical interventions.
Many times, toe walking can be corrected in children with autism by working with them through various stretches and exercises. There have also been studies that TAGteach has been helpful with autistic children and toe walking.
TAGteach is also known as teaching with acoustical guidance. It uses positive reinforcement to help get the desired behavior with the use of auditory stimuli, like "click" sounds. These clicks act as a conditioned reinforcer.
This teaching method has proved to be successful in treating toe walking in children with autism by helping to reduce the behavior. When conducting this treatment, is implemented in three phases.
Phase 1: This is known as the correction phase. This is when the chosen stimuli are introduced, and the professional corrects the toe-walking behavior with their chosen method.
Phase 2: This phase is where the correction method that the professional chose is paired with TAG.
Phase 3: The last phase in TAGteach is known as the "fading" phase. During this phase, the professional will begin to gradually remove the conditioned click sound for every two to four flat steps that the child takes.
Toe walking is a natural thing for a baby to do, especially when they are first learning to walk. In most children, the child will stop toe-walking between six months and two years old. Up until this point, there isn't anything to worry about.
However, after your child is older than two years old, if they continue to toe walk, this could cause some concern. Many children with autism will continue to toe-walk after the two-year mark, which is an indication that there might be some sort of issue.
Toe walking is an early sign of neurological issues in a child, and once this is considered a consistent problem, you will want to consult with a professional to make sure that you are engaged in the right type of exercises with your child to give them the best chance of correcting the behavior early on.
After all, the longer the child continues to toe walk to the more potential damage they could cause to their leg and calf muscles.