WIll my autistic child ever grow out of toe walking?

Will my autistic child ever grow out of toe walking?

The answer to the question: Will my autistic child every grow out of toe walking? is both yes and no.

As an 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 leaning forward when walking.

We have not found any scientific studies that explain 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 develops 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, and poor balance and motor organization.

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 children with autism.

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

Here are some examples of textures to use: simple and inexpensive plastic door mats; rubber mats for the car; pillow cases filled with rice, corn or twigs; a piece of cardboard wrapped in tin foil. When these textures are placed on the floor in a line in a high-traffic area they will be walked on many times a day.

Using the tactile area on the sole of the foot as an entryway for interesting information is a very powerful means to improve tactile processing and self-awareness because the child is in full control of the routine and can take ownership of what he feels.

The multi-texture path combines two essential elements for recovery: firstly, interesting and new tactile information, and secondly, a very understimulated tactile area which can be trained to process accurately. The brain will prompt the person to make full contact on the textures, thus using a flat-footed walk. This should progressively decrease the toe walking.


FREE therapy plan available!

Sensory Processing and anxiety are two of the biggest areas of progress for people with developmental disabilities, including autism, who are doing Sensory Enrichment Therapy.

Toe walking is a symptom that improves with Sensory Enrichment Therapy and there is a FREE plan available. Why not try it?


Additional reading

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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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2 replies
  1. Liz
    Liz says:

    My son did this. This was years ago. Off the top of my head, can’t remember the name of them or the condition, but when you can’t process certain foods, you get tiny microscopic crystals forming in your blood. It’s the same thing as vaginosis. Women who suffer from this can’t bare anything touching them ‘down there’ I wondered if something similar was happing to my son. If he had those crystals pooling in the bottom of his feet, it would feel like walking on broken glass. If you had to do that, you’d minimis the pain by walking on your toes. I treated him with various supplements and it slowly went away. He hasn’t done it for years. So long in fact it was only reading this I remembered it! Sorry for the lack of anything g concreat – but anyone who’s willing to do enough google searches along this topic will be able to find out what I did. As far as I know, no one else has put this forward as a theory. Whilst I agreee our children have multiple sensory issues, I do feel sometimes it’s a catch all for thing we dont understand, and that an actual physical problem can be behind the ‘sensory‘ and if you treat the underlying cause, you get rid of the symptom.

    • Mendability
      Mendability says:

      Thanks for sharing your ideas, Liz. It’s a bit like the physical issue about the narrower functional field of vision that could explain why some people don’t always notice things.


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