Category: Physical Therapy

Children exercise so researchers can gain a better understanding of autism’s effects on movement
In 2021, children participated in a prior movement study with Prof. Anjana Bhat’s student research team to gain a better understanding of autism’s effects on movement.

Changing the definition

January 31, 2023 Written by Amy Cherry | Photo by Ashley Varnas

Physical therapy professor pushes to change autism definition to include motor difficulties

Fei, a mother of three, has two children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). 

Her son Ben, 8, who also has weak core muscles attributed to autism, had received physical therapy (PT) since he was 2 years old. He was also diagnosed with motor coordination disorder at age 3, which extended his PT for an additional year. 

In first grade, Ben’s PT services were canceled because school officials said he no longer “met the criteria” to receive PT. 

Anjana Bhat, associate professor of physical therapy in the University of Delaware’s College of Health Sciences, has been studying gross motor difficulties in children with ASD for years. Bhat said, too often, parents like Fei are told: “Your child walks, and so he doesn’t need any physical or movement therapies.” 

Fei and her children took part in Bhat’s movement study in 2021, funded by a National Institutes of Health R01 grant. The study found associations between motor impairment, autism severity and comorbidities in children with ASD. 

That research is now the basis behind Bhat's move to apply to the American Psychiatric Association to modify the definition of autism in the DSM to include motor difficulties as a “specifier.” 

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