Monday, August 26, 2013

Toe Walking- Not Just Sensory

My son was a toe-walker.  He didn't do it all the time but it was frequent enough to cause concern.  We observed when he did and when he didn't.  It seemed he walked on his toes more when he was stressed or tired.  All the therapists and experts agreed that it was a sensory response caused by his autism.  The logical thing to do was to correct it.

For years we encouraged him to "walk correctly".Finally, all the hard work and perseverance ended his toe walking.  Success!  He was walking normally.  

This "success" turned into failure months later.  He didn't revert to toe walking.  Worse, he couldn't walk without pain.  One beautiful spring day, he walked across the yard barefoot.  That was the first day I noticed his arches had become inverted.  I have flat feet.  He had feet that went beyond flat.  I was almost physically sick when I saw how deformed his feet had become over the winter.

What had we done to him?

His physical therapist thought we just didn't get his orthopedics adjusted fast enough.  His podiatrist didn't even look at his feet before saying he just needed new inserts in his shoes.  I took him to a children's hospital for a complete evaluation for Marfan's Syndrome and his feet.  Their recommendation was physical therapy to stretch the tendons and new orthopedics.  We tried that.  No improvement.

I made an appointment with a podiatrist trusted by a close friend.  He took one look at my son's feet and said "he was a toe-walker".  "When did he stop walking on his toes?"  Dr. Brown knew immediately that the trouble was my son's Achilles tendon length.  No amount of stretching can lengthen the tendon.  Only surgery.  If we had known that before we taught him to "walk correctly", the procedure would have been relatively simple.  By correcting on problem, we caused a new and much worse problem.

Br. Brown referred us to a specialist.  My son needed to Have his feet totally rebuilt and his tendons lengthened.  The surgeries consisted of bone grafts, plates and screws to move the bone back into place and hold them there.  He was also not allowed to place any weight on each foot for well over 3 months.  

It took a whole year of surgeries, physical therapy and over $150,000 to correct our error.  We are still paying off this debt.  When I see my son walk, run, wrestle and play football I know the debt is worthwhile.  

I still hate that we caused this problem by not even once considering a physiological cause of his toe walking. Striving for Independence: Ways to Help Children with Disabilities Learn to Function More Indepedently eBook: Kristan Payne: Kindle Store