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Toe Walking and Autism: Why Do Autistic Children Walk on Their Toes?

Author: Warren Gouin

Last Updated

18 July 2023
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?


Is your child still walking on their tiptoes instead of using a normal heel-to-toe gait? Don't panic, but it's worth looking into. 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 your doctor.


Is Walking On Your Tippy Toes A Sign Of Autism?

The short answer is - maybe. How toe walking is related to autism is not settled, which means we are still exploring the relationship. However, there's 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. It may be helpful to avoid an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis or change where they sit on the spectrum.

Toe walking can be a sign that your young child me be on the spectrum, however it also can a sign that your child requires some therapy, such as primitive reflexes therapy, to help their neurological system develop.

When seeking help, have an open mind. Seek advice from various sources, such as a doctor, an occupational therapist and a specialist in primitive reflexes.


Some important information on toe walking in children with autism.

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

Children with ASD frequently walk on their toes due to problems with their vestibular system, affecting 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. While autistic children are more likely to walk on their toes compared to others, this doesn't guarantee an ASD diagnosis.

If your child walks on their tiptoes for longer than usual, seeking help is recommended. Addressing this issue can positively impact their overall development and potentially influence 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 and 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 that I want to convey in this post is the importance of taking a wider view to look at more than the traditional reasons. 

Toe walking is a common behaviour in children with autism, but pinpointing the cause can be a challenge for doctors. To truly understand why this happens, we must delve into primitive reflexes. Retained primitive reflexes could very well be the key culprit behind toe walking in children with autism. Let's uncover effective solutions together!

In the next section we'll look at causes for persistent toe walking as well as some things to consider to help overcome the walking pattern.


Causes And Resolutions For Toe Walking In Children.

Persistent toe walking in children often stems from issues with the vestibular system, which plays a crucial role in body position and motion feedback to the brain. This can be particularly relevant for children with autism, as their vestibular system may not function optimally. Consequently, it could significantly impact your child's gait.

While there is some evidence of a neurological connection, tiptoe walking is commonly attributed to muscle weakness or coordination difficulties. This assumption holds merit since doctors often observe muscular 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, if the incorrect use of muscles persists, it can lead to further challenges over time. In certain instances, doctors struggle to identify a specific cause of toe walking. In such cases, idiopathic toe walking is diagnosed when no underlying health issues are found and 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 and explore alternative causes from a fresh perspective. If you've read my other posts before, you know I like thinking outside the box and being curious about different ideas.

Primitive reflex issues are frequently present in children on the autism spectrum and manifest differently depending 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 naturally resolve themselves in children – meaning that whatever leads to autism might also hinder proper resolution of these reflexes.

Typically speaking, primitive reflexes should resolve within specific age ranges as part of normal development milestones, however inflammation of the brain and nervous system during early childhood can prevent this natural process from occurring properly.

Many children could greatly benefit from seeking guidance from an experienced practitioner who specialises in addressing retained primitive reflexes.

Retained Plantar or Babinski reflexes may be linked to persistent toe walking, and addressing these reflexes through therapy can potentially alleviate not only toe walking but also other related symptoms like sensory processing disorder.

Primitive reflex therapies actually play a significant role in enhancing sensory integration. I strongly recommend combining assistance from a skilled practitioner in primitive reflexes with implementing an anti-inflammatory diet for better results. Gluten and dairy are common sources of inflammation for children on the autism spectrum; however, I encourage you to read our post on healing autism for more ideas and seek personalised advice.


What To Do If Your Child Is A Toe Walker.

There are treatment options for toe walking 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. Particularly with autism and conditions such as persistent toe walking, there is no one person with all the answers and necessary skills. If your doctor can't find a clear reason for toe walking after exploring different options for diagnosis, I suggest seeking advice from other professionals.

Often children with autism have sensory processing disorder, which can effect their walking pattern. There lies a hint into some further options for therapies that are often overlooked. It's not just sensory sensitivities that cause toe walking. It may be more about them sharing a root cause.

Other important areas places 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. Particularly with autism, we know that inflammation is correlated with ASD symptoms, and may impair development. Poor health and inflammation can delay the integration of primitive reflexes, causing 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 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. Having knowledge about health can help you ask the appropriate questions when seeking help from medical professionals and nutritionists.



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