Toe Walking: How Walking on Toes Can Relate to Autism

Apr 18, 2024 | 0 comments

Toe walking, or walking on the toes without making full contact with the ground, is a behavior that can sometimes be observed in children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). However, it’s important to note that not all children with autism engage in toe walking, and walking on the toes can also be observed in children without autism for various reasons. The exact cause of toe walking in children with autism is not fully understood, but there are a few theories that researchers have explored:

1. **Sensory Processing Differences**

Children with autism often have differences in sensory processing. They might have heightened sensitivity to certain sensory inputs, such as touch, texture, or proprioception (awareness of body position). Toe walking could potentially be a way for these children to cope with sensory processing challenges or discomfort. Walking on their toes might provide a different sensory experience that helps them regulate their sensory input.

2. **Motor Planning and Coordination Issues**

Some children with autism might experience challenges in motor coordination and planning. Toe walking could be related to difficulties in coordinating the movements required for typical walking. This behavior might result from a preference for a more controlled or familiar movement pattern.

3. **Repetitive Behaviors and Rituals**

Repetitive behaviors are common in autism. Toe walking could be a form of repetitive behavior or ritualistic movement. Children with autism may engage in these behaviors to provide a sense of predictability and comfort in their environment.

4. **Attention and Engagement**

Toe walking might serve as a way for some children with autism to engage with their surroundings or environment. It could be a way to focus their attention on certain sensory aspects of their surroundings or to self-stimulate.

5. **Social and Communication Factors**

 In some cases, toe walking might be related to social or communication factors. For instance, a child might walk on their toes as a way to avoid eye contact or social interaction. It could also be a way to seek attention or to communicate a need or discomfort.

Toe Walking in Autism Treatments

Strategies to assist in the reduction of Autistic tip toe walking in children;

  • Heavy pushing: child pushes heavy cart/washing basket or object across floor
  • Standing on or walking over unstable surfaces
    • standing on a large pillow barefoot & reaching one at a time for multiple items 
    • Walking across large bean bags placed on the floor 
    • Standing on a balance board while completing puzzle placed on floor in front of balance board
  • Scooter activities:
    • have them sit on the scooter & pull self forward and/or backward across the room
  • Activities with riding toys:
    • Child sits on riding toy and pulls self forward across the room
    • Child sits on riding toy and pushes self backwards across room
  • Child sits on top of large plush toy and uses feet to propel self around room (floorboards)
  • Walking up or down a ramp
  • Frog-hops and bear walks
  • Jumping barefoot on a trampoline
  • Hard soled shoes like boots that maintain the foot flat to the floor
  • Wearing light (1kg) ankle weights to provide more deep pressure sensory-motor messages back to the brain
  • Massage for the feet and legs


Steps to Take for ASD Toe Walking

It’s important to remember that there is a wide range of behaviors and characteristics within the autism spectrum. Not all children with autism engage in toe walking, and those who do may do so for different reasons.

toddler twirling on tip toes in the grassIf you’re concerned about a child’s toe walking behavior, it’s a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional or developmental specialist (Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist, Paediatrician, GP). They can assess the child’s specific situation and provide guidance on appropriate interventions or strategies if needed.

Book an appointment to see one of our Occupational Therapists for an Assessment in Parramatta, NSW.