WIll my autistic child ever grow out of toe walking?

Will my autistic child ever grow out of toe walking?

Well, yes and no.

Yes, as the autistic child grows taller and heavier, idiosyncratic toe walking (ITW) becomes more and more difficult. Unfortunately, what usually happens is that the toe walking evolves into a rigid gait, often characterized by some rigidity of the legs and a leaning forward during walk.

There is no scientific study that I have found that explains why children with autism toe walk and become adults with a particular gait.

Some have proposed that this gait pattern is linked to a sensory processing dysfunction (SPD), but no firm link has been found yet.

Walking is one of the last things that develop in a human. With autism we see a lot of problems associated with the various steps involved in walking. We see poor sensory processing, poor self-awareness, poor balance and motor organization. No wonder their walking style is a little odd!

Can you do anything to help?

There is one strategy that has worked for us as we implement sensory enrichment techniques to help the brains of these children with autism.

This strategy addresses the tactile processing in general, and the information of the foot sole in particular. This is done by creating a multi-texture path for the child to walk on with bare feet randomly, during the day, whenever he feels like it, without any direct request from you, the parent.

Simple and non expensive plastic door mats, rubber mats for the car, pillow cases filled with rice, corn or twigs, a piece of cardboard wrapped with tin foil. Those textures laid in a line in a high passage area will be walked on many times a day and will become part of the house decor.

Using the foot sole tactile area as an entry way for interesting information while the child is in full control of the routine and can take ownership of what he feels is a very powerful medium to improve tactile processing and self awareness.

Additional Reading

Magn Reson Med. 2012 Jun 7. doi: 10.1002/mrm.24330. [Epub ahead of print]
Novel MRI-compatible tactile stimulator for cortical mapping of foot sole pressure stimuli with fMRI.
Hao Y, Manor B, Liu J, Zhang K, Chai Y, Lipsitz L, Peng CK, Novak V, Wang X, Zhang J, Fang J.

Gait Posture. 2012 Oct 11. pii: S0966-6362(12)00355-4. doi: 10.1016/j.gaitpost.2012.09.012. [Epub ahead of print]
The differential effects of foot sole sensory on plantar pressure distribution between balance and gait.
Zhang S, Li L.

Clin Biomech (Bristol, Avon). 2001 Nov;16(9):719-27.
The effect of changes in foot sensation on plantar pressure and muscle activity.
Nurse MA, Nigg BM.

J Electromyogr Kinesiol. 2002 Jun;12(3):213-7.
Afferent feedback in the control of human gait.
Nielsen JB, Sinkjaer T.

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