Hypertonia and Hypotonia: Overcoming Motor Disorders in Autism

Children with autism are often challenged by motor skill problems that can affect their abilities to walk, run, play, and even write.

According to a recent study, up to 83 percent of children with autism spectrum disorder were identified as below average in motor skills development. 

Today we will analyze two of the main motor/muscular disorders that affect the autism community, as well as autism-friendly sports activities to ease them. 

What is Low Muscle Tone vs. High Muscle Tone?

Muscle tone is defined as the level of tension presented in the muscles while being in the resting state.

Muscle tone is also responsible for the fact that we can stand, walk, maintain equilibrium, and have motor control. When muscle tone presented in a child is either too high or too low, it can lead to motor disorders and coordinational challenges. 

Hypertonia, or High Muscle Tone

Hypertonia is characterized by high-extra resistance to movement. When muscles are too stiff or tight, it is expressed in the form of lack of elasticity and motion. Children with hypertonia (or high muscular tone) are normally keeping their arms and legs tucked in and their hands curled into fists.

The following symptoms will help you identify if your child has it:

  • appears to be rigid and hard to stretch out
  • difficulty bending
  • difficulty reaching out hands, legs, and arms and turning head
  • flexed feet
  • walking with straightened legs

Note: This condition is very common in cerebral palsy cases, and in lower percentages in Autism.

Hypotonia, or Low Muscle Tone

Contrary to Hypertonia, Hypotonia is a condition where children present very “floppy”, or flaccid muscular tone. This condition is more common than hypertonia in autism and is represented by having too little muscle tone in their bodies.

This condition affects their movement abilities because children lack “support” to stand by themselves or even to lift their heads.

The following signs are common in children with hypotonia:

  • seem “floppy” when held
  • have a hard time sitting upright
  • hypermobility, or very flexible
  • appear to be weak
  • can easily dislocate their arms or legs

Note: Hypotonia does not necessarily mean extreme weakness. In some cases, it can be manifested in a bigger effort (due to muscular weakness) to accomplish certain movements. 

How To Improve Motor Disorders in Autism? 

Sports have a huge impact on the life of children. It can be a great way to improve sensory integration, physical coordination, muscle tone, motor skills, and even social skills. Following sports can help improve motor disorders in children with Autism:

1.- Swimming: Water gives children a sensory input, and it can be a suitable activity to practice individually, while still being part of a team, thus it promotes social skills.

2.- Horseback Riding: Horses are used by physical, speech, and occupational therapists to teach their patients on a personal level through what is referred to as “hippotherapy.” Children with autism also benefit from equine therapy due to the motor, emotional, and sensory sensations that come with riding a horse.

3.-Cycling: Learning to ride a bike strengthens children with special needs physically. Pedalling allows them to develop the leg muscle organization and endurance they might have lacked before. Bike riding can fine-tune motor skills and physical coordination as well as aid with balance.

4.- Martial Arts: Martial arts can also be really suitable for children within the spectrum, thanks to its high levels of organization and structure. Routine plays an important role in the lives of people with autism because it provides certainty and therefore decreases anxiety and stress.

5.-Gymnastics: By using equipment such as trampolines, balance beams, and the bars, ASD children can improve their motor skills (cardiovascular endurance, muscle strength, balance, flexibility, coordination of fine movement, etc.) while building confidence and improving their social skills.

We highly encourage you to ask your family doctor before having your child practice any of these sports. If your child is already seeing a physical therapist, they will be able to suggest exercises and activities that you can implement at home as well. Remember, its all about learning while having fun safely!

At World Stem Cell Clinic, we believe that that having an informed parent –in an effort to empower him and his family– is the only way for us to deliver optimal healthcare. Visit our website to find out more about our services and let us be part of your journey.