STRATEGIES TO IMPROVE LOW MUSCLE TONE IN AUTISM CHILDREN

Some individuals with Autism or Asperser’s Syndrome suffer from low muscle tone which can sometimes be diagnosed as Hypotonic.   Muscle tone is the amount of tension or resistance to stretch in a muscle.   Someone with low muscle tone may appear “floppy” and have trouble coordinating their limbs.   Other signs are delayed motor skills, speech difficulties, clumsiness, poor reflexes, bad body posture, low strength, decreased attention span and resistance to physical activity.

Children and young adults with low muscle tone may appear lazy and determined to avoid physical activity which they find exhausting and difficult.  However keeping active and improving tone is vitally important to improve balance, co-ordination, and confidence.   Poor control of the muscles can have a significant impact on an individual’s ability to perform everyday task, so here are some strategies that can help:

Seating

Children with low muscle tone will find it difficult to sit in one position for a period of time – often they will begin to slouch or slump forward.  Therefore seating is one of the most important aspects of helping someone who has low muscle tone.  A wedge cushion can be used in school or at home to help a child improve their seating posture.  The wedge encourages the child the engage their core when sitting (sometimes referred to as “active sitting”) building muscle tone and promoting a better sitting position.  This has the knock on effect of improving concentration and focus in the classroom.  A wobble stool can also be used to  build muscle tone.   This is a stool with a domed base making it slightly unstable when sat on.  The sitter has to engage their core to remain upright on the stool building tone and body awareness

Body Awareness

Poor awareness of the body and limbs is a sign of low muscle tone and leads to poor co-ordination, delayed fine and gross motor skills.   Improving body awareness is important in building confidence in children and doing this through play is a good way to help this. For example muscle tone can be improved by having fun swinging and balancing.   Activities such as the Body sock are also a low cost, convenient way for children to work their limbs and improve body awareness in relation to its surroundings – it’s fun too!   Children can improve balance and gross motor skills by standing on a wobble cushion.

 Posture

Maintaining a good posture whilst standing or sitting can help enhance wellbeing and quality of life.  Ask the child to look and mirror and point out where the centre of their body and whether their ears are over their shoulders, and shoulders are over their hips. Now ask them to close their eyes, move them around, and now see if they can find that good posture position again.  For sitting use Peanut Therapy Ball to practice a correct sitting posture with the back straight, upper legs parallel to the floor, which will build back and core strength. The peanut ball shape is more stable than a conventional therapy ball and so builds confidence.

 Vibration & Brushing

Vibration can be beneficial to those with low muscle tone to stimulate the body.   Use a Massage Cushion on the back and affected areas to encourage the muscles to contract.   Brushing with a specialist sensory brush also stimulates the body or use sensory massage tools to wake up sleepy muscles.

Exercise

Most people with low muscle tone avoid exercise, so it’s important to keep the body in shape and to keep as fit as possible.  Activities which are also fun are best so encourage things such as cycling, climbing, hiking, dancing, gymnastics, trampolining etc.  Any exercise that keeps the body and muscles engaged should be encouraged as much as possible.

 Heavy Work

Household chores and regular work around the classroom provide realistic opportunities for using muscles that otherwise prefer to rest.  Specialist equipment such as weight wrist weights and weighted toys can also help to exercise the muscles and build tone.

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