The following excerpt is taken from Chapter Six of Pervasive Developmental Disorders: Finding a Diagnosis and Getting Help by Mitzi Waltz, copyright 1999 by O'Reilly & Associates, Inc. For book orders/information, call (800) 998-9938. Permission is granted to print and distribute this excerpt for noncommercial use as long as the above source is included. The information in this article is meant to educate and should not be used as an alternative for professional medical care. 

Physical therapists are trained to work in schools, hospital rehabilitation centers, and private practice. Some, particularly those working in Early Intervention, may deliver services in your home. Physical therapists use equipment and exercises to help people overcome mobility impairments, or to handle to effects of accident or injury.

Most physical therapists work primarily on gross motor issues: problems involving the major muscles and their movements, such as crawling, walking, and bending. They can also devise exercises that reduce chronic pain from injury, overstress of muscles, or birth defects.

Many autistic-spectrum people will never need the services of a physical therapist, but some do. Physical therapists can help you find solutions to gait problems, low muscle tone, strength deficits, and related issues.  

As with occupational therapy, physical therapy at school and in a medical setting may look quite different. Physical therapists in Early Intervention programs often have access to large equipment, such as slant boards, scooters, and walking bars; physical therapists working regular K-12 schools may not. Hospital- and clinic-based programs are usually equipment-rich. Not all problems require fancy equipment, however, and a talented physical therapist can get a lot done without it.

Whether the work is done in school, in a clinical setting, or at home, it's important to work toward clear goals. The exercises can be difficult at times, although physical therapy has the potential for being fun if you're working with a gifted practitioner. Regular progress reports are a must, and should be written in language that the parent or adult patient can understand. For non-verbal or very young patients, practitioners should work out a system in advance for indicating that something hurts.