The Role of Exercise Physiologists in Supporting Autism

February 1, 2023

Autism is a spectrum disorder. There are many different presentations and classifications of autism.

Some people present higher on the spectrum with greater levels of impairment and disability, while others are low-level, and are described as high functioning. Presentation is varied from person to person, however typically, a person will exhibit different characteristics towards;

  • Learning
  • Interaction with others
  • Behaviours, such as repetitive behaviours

Prior to Booking an Initial Assessment

Prior to attending an assessment, our Exercise Physiologists like to ascertain the background of the client. This is typically provided by the participant’s support coordinator, carer or family.

This will provide insight and strategies to maximise the impact of the first assessment. For example, a support coordinator recently told us “Please don’t reach out and try to shake their hand, they do not appreciate it”. This kind of information helps us to establish trust from the start which is so important for successful relationship building.

Moreover, the method of communication is something that should be considered.

Exercise Physiology Assessments for People with Autism

At Total Health Physio, we have a structured template that we follow whenever we meet someone for the first time. This would capture information such as:

  • Client information
  • NDIS Specific Details if applicable
  • Introduction
  • Client Goals
  • Primary Disability
  • Medical Background
  • Family and Social Support
  • Services in Place
  • Home Environment
  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Physical Function
  • Cognition
  • Equipment
  • Recommendations Sections
  • Summary Section

While this provides a structured approach, our Exercise Physiologists will also be subjective and create a conversation with the client. This is to help someone speak freely and describe their own situation in their own words.

Creating an Exercise Physiology Plan

When it comes to ASD, given there is such a wide array of presentations, the approach must be tailored to the individual, making sure we listen to what is important to the client.

For example, our EP Patrick has been seeing a young man who has expressed that he dislikes exercise. Our approach has been to find things he enjoys, gamify the experience, and turn our sessions into activity-based exercise interventions, such as bike riding with his brother.

In contrast, Patrick has another client in her forties, but she really loves exercise and she can’t wait for Patrick to come each week to do her resistance training program.

As such, our caring EPs are consistent in their approach to always providing a boutique, individualised program.

Defining Goals for Those Who Do Not Communicate a Clear Goal

There are some clients, who for varying reasons, do not communicate an explicit goal such as “I would like to increase my walking capacity to 2km”.

When providing services to anyone, but especially NDIS participants, there must be clear goals in place. When working with people with ASD, these goals may be more general in nature such as:

  • I want to get fitter
  • I want to feel better
  • I want to play basketball soon

Sometimes, when our EPs are working with people with autism, or with clients under the age of 18, it is beneficial for their parents or carers to be present at the initial assessment.

This allows us to collaborate with them as well. While the focus is always on our client, there are times when somebody may be unsure of an answer, has difficulty expressing themselves or is not comfortable with a new person. This is often a great time to hear the opinions and experiences of the people closest to them.

Do You Know Someone Who’d Benefit from Seeing Our Caring EPs?

At Total Health Physio, we offer compassionate Physio, OT and EP services.

  • We can deliver multidisciplinary care
  • We are NDIS registered
  • All staff treat each client with Trust, Compassion and Care
  • We are university trained

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us!