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Understanding Toe Walking in Autism: Key Insights

Author: Warren Gouin

Last Updated

09 March 2024
Doctor looking at child's foot.

What Is Toe Walking?

Watching your child take their first steps is a milestone moment for any parent. However, when your child doesn't develop a more normal gait, should you seek help?

Toe walking is when a child walks on the balls of their feet, rather than a normal heel-to-toe gait.

While it's common in toddlers, some kids continue to toe walk past age two, causing concern for parents. But don't worry! We'll dive into what causes toe walking and how you can address it with a good health professional.


Is Walking On Your Tippy Toes A Sign Of Autism?

The short answer is - maybe. The link between toe walking and autism is not settled. We are still exploring it. However, there are some things doctors, scientists and parents know.

Here's the way I look at it. If your toddler walks on their tippy toes for longer than is normal, seek some help. Helping your child with their toe walking will help their overall development. This may help avoid an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis. Or, it may help change their place on the spectrum.

Toe walking can signal that your young child may be on the spectrum. But, it can also signal that your child needs therapy. For example, they may need primitive reflexes therapy to help their nervous system develop.

When seeking help, have an open mind. Seek advice from many sources. These include a doctor, an occupational therapist, and a reflex specialist.


How toe walking is related to Autism.

I'll briefly discuss information on toe walking in children with an Autism diagnosis.

Toe walking is a common trait in children, especially those on the autism spectrum. It's linked to neurological conditions. This suggests it's related to their brain and body connection.

Children with ASD often walk on their toes. This is due to problems with their vestibular system. It affects their perception of body position and movement.

There is more evidence supporting the neurological cause of toe walking. It's also seen in young children with medical conditions like cerebral palsy, spina bifida, or muscular dystrophy.

It's important to note, however, that toe walking alone doesn't mean a child has autism. Autistic children are more likely to walk on their toes. But, this doesn't mean they have ASD.

If your child walks on their tiptoes for longer than usual, seeking help is recommended. Dealing with this issue can help their development. It might affect where they fall on the autism spectrum. Getting assistance could potentially even prevent a diagnosis of ASD altogether.

When seeking help, keep an open mind. Consult professionals like doctors, occupational therapists, and specialists in primitive reflexes. Remember that every child is unique; what works for one may not work for another. The key is finding the right approach tailored to your child's individual needs.


Why Is My Autistic Child Toe Walking?

The answer is not as simple as you might think. Traditional reasons may not tell the whole story. The key message is that we must look beyond tradition. We must take a wider view.

Children with autism commonly walk on their toes. But, it can be hard for doctors to find the cause. To truly understand why this happens, we must delve into primitive reflexes. Retained primitive reflexes may well be the main cause. They are often behind toe walking in kids with autism.

In the next section, we'll look at causes for persistent toe walking. We'll also cover some things to consider to help overcome the walking pattern.


Causes And Resolutions For Toe Walking In Children.

Children often walk on their toes due to issues with the vestibular system. This system is crucial for sending the brain feedback on body position and motion. This can be important for children with autism. Their vestibular system may not be working well. Consequently, it could impact your child's gait.

Some evidence links tiptoe walking to neurology. But, it is often blamed on weak muscles or coordination issues. These may be calf muscles and foot muscles in particular. This assumption holds merit. Doctors often see muscle problems when assessing a child who has been toe walking for some time. Even if the root cause isn't muscular, it appears that way at first glance.

Unfortunately, using the muscles incorrectly too much can lead to more challenges over time. In certain instances, doctors struggle to identify a specific cause of toe walking. In such cases, toe walking is called idiopathic. Doctors diagnose it when they find no underlying health issues. The child remains otherwise healthy.

To address this condition, doctors may recommend physical therapy, orthotics, surgery or medication.

Now let's put on our Natural Autism Support hat. Let's explore other causes from a fresh view. You know I like thinking outside the box. I'm curious about different ideas.

Children on the autism spectrum often have primitive reflex issues. The issues manifest differently based on which reflexes remain active. Toe walking and low muscle tone might be among these symptoms.

Often, what causes autism also affects how well primitive reflexes resolve in children. This means that what leads to autism might also affect primitive reflexes.

Primitive reflexes typically resolve within specific age ranges as part of normal development. But, early childhood inflammation can prevent this process in the brain and nervous system.

Many children could benefit greatly. They need guidance from an experienced practitioner. This person specialises in addressing retained primitive reflexes.

Retained Plantar and Babinski reflexes can cause persistent toe walking. Therapy can address these reflexes. It may stop toe walking. It may also help other related symptoms, like sensory processing disorder.

Primitive reflex therapies actually play a significant role in enhancing sensory integration. I strongly recommend combining help from a skilled practitioner in primitive reflexes. Also, add an anti-inflammatory diet for better results. Gluten and dairy cause inflammation for children with autism. But, I encourage you to read our post on healing autism for more ideas. Also, seek personalised advice.


What To Do If Your Child Is A Toe Walker.

There are treatment options for toe walking in children with Autism. These options aren't just limited to those that address muscle weakness and co-ordination.

If your child is a toe-walker, the first decision is to either act or ignore it and hope it goes away. In most cases of idiopathic toe walking, it simply resolves itself through normal development. However, if it persists after the age of two years old, or you are worried, you probably should act as soon as possible.

The initial step is to seek advice from your doctor. Your doctor will be able to assist you with tests and options for diagnosis. There are possible medical reasons for toe walking, which your doctor can help you with.

I'm a strong believer in not putting all of your eggs in one basket. This is especially true for autism and conditions like toe walking. No one person has all the answers and skills. If your doctor can't find a clear reason for toe walking after trying various diagnoses, seek advice from other professionals.

Children with autism often have a sensory processing disorder. It can affect their walking. There lies a hint into some further options for therapies that are often overlooked. It's not just sensory processing differences that cause toe walking. It may be more about them sharing a root cause.

Other important areas where to seek advice are:

  • Occupational/physical therapist

  • A Practitioner that specialises in primitive reflexes


Ideally, you would find an occupational therapist that specialises in primitive reflexes.

In addition to the above, it's wise to seek help in improving the health of your child the same time. This is especially true for autism. We know that inflammation is linked to ASD symptoms. It may impair development. Poor health and inflammation can delay the integration of primitive reflexes. This delay causes problems with a person's walking, including toe walking. These symptoms may occur due to a combination of factors, and may vary from person to person.

For more information about improving the health of your child, please read our other posts, including 4 Ways To Heal Autism Naturally at Home. You may also want to explore more free and detailed information in our other blog posts. Knowing about health can help you ask the right questions. You'll need to ask good questions when seeking help from doctors and nutritionists.

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No products listed on this website are a treatment for autism.  I do not claim any products listed treat or diagnose any medical condition.  

Products listed are hand-picked due to their evidence of supporting health and wellbeing cost-effectively, as well as positive experiences experienced by my family and/or reported by other parents.

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