Sunday, January 13, 2013

Toe Walking: Read This Before Correcting!

Red Coral Anglican Rosary (Protestant Prayer Beads)
Everyone knows that children with autism walk on their toes because it is a sensory or stress issue, right? WRONG!  

Like many young children with autism, my son tended to walk on his toes and it seemed to be more pronounced when he was stressed.  We discussed it with teachers, therapists and doctors.

The consensus: 
1. Stretch the Achilles Tendons with exercises.
2. Practice walking "correctly".

We did and after years of practice, in the 4th grade he was finally walking "correctly".  In the 3rd grade, Gabe's arches were fallen and we went to a podiatrist.  He got inserts into his shoes.  I have flat feet and so does my father.  I didn't think it was anything unusual.

In the spring of his 5th grade year, I saw Gabe run across the yard barefoot for the first time in months.  He could not run anymore..  His arches had fallen so much that they looked inverted.  How was that even possible?

Thus started a series of visits to various doctors.  The first of which didn't even look at his feet.  He just said, "Check to see if the insurance covers new inserts."  Next we went to pediatric specialists who prescribed physical therapy followed by new inserts.

His feet continued to get worse.  Gabe could not walk for any length of time without pain.  There were callouses were his arches should be.  I called another doctor.  He took one look at Gabe's feet and said he couldn't help.  Only a few doctors in the country can handle Gabe's issues.  He asked if Gabe had been a "toe walker".  

Gabe's toe walking had more to do with his Achilles Tendon being too short than his autism.  When we "corrected" his walking, all bones in his feet shifted out of alignment.  The only way to correct it was surgery.

We were very fortunate that one of the doctors dealing with this type of problem worked a little more than an hour away. Gabe's 7th grade year was spent reconstructing his feet and doing physical therapy to rebuild strength.  Gabe could not attend school for months.  He might have made it back sooner if his classes had been handicap accessible. 

Gabe's surgeries were fairly extensive.  The surgeon lengthened the Achilles tendons, used bone grafts and pins (at least 13 per foot) to put the bones in the correct spots.  If we had seen the doctor when Gabe was still a toe walker, lengthening the tendons would have been sufficient.  That is relatively minor procedure in comparison.

Good News!  Gabe can walk without pain.  He also runs track, wrestles and plays football.  

I feel horrible about the surgeries and not thinking there could be another cause other than autism for his toe walking. 

Please consider other causes for "autistic behavior"!