Date of Award

Spring 3-11-2024

Degree Type


Degree Name

PhD Health Sciences


Health and Medical Sciences


Genevieve Zipp, EdD

Committee Member

Michelle D'Abundo, PhD

Committee Member

Deborah Deluca, JD


Physical Therapist, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Interventions



Background: Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex condition affecting multiple domains of development. Physical Therapists (PTs) are members of the interprofessional team addressing the needs of individuals with ASD. A lack of uniformity in evidence-based assessments and practices employed by therapists to address the needs of children with ASD exists in the literature. PTs often implement approaches that are not evidence-based but rather learned from more experienced professionals or discovered by trial and error.

Pediatric clinical specialist physical therapists (PCSPTs) are PTs who possess advanced education and clinical skills in Pediatrics. As pediatric experts, PCSPTs play a major role in translating knowledge both evidence-based and practice-based to the practice of pediatric Physical Therapy especially regarding the ASD population. The purpose of this work was to explore the lived experiences of Board-certified pediatric clinical specialist physical therapists who treat children diagnosed with ASD as part of their clinical practice.

Methods: Nine online semi-structured audio-recorded interviews were conducted exploring the voice of PCSPTs regarding their practices with children with ASD. The interviews began with several demographic questions followed by 16 interview guide questions which targeted six associated research questions. Interview transcriptions were coded using Heuristic, descriptive, in-vivo coding practices, followed by hermeneutic categorization, and resulted in the development of thematic analysis statements addressing the associated research questions. The intercoder agreement was established with a second coder during the coding process (minimum of 80% agreement per code).

Results: Six thematic statements revealed how PCSPTs address the needs of children with ASD, what strategies they used, how they translated available knowledge to practice, what barriers they encountered, what approaches they implemented for examination, evaluation, and treatment intervention, and, finally, whether they viewed themselves as knowledge brokers were formed.

Conclusions: Based upon Sackett’s Triangle of Evidence paradigm, this work represents a starting point for establishing an evidence-based resource for working with children with ASD. By exploring the practices of board-certified pediatric clinical specialist physical therapists who address the needs of children diagnosed with ASD additional research may be sparked, clinical practice guidelines for PT practice can begin to be developed, continuing education experiences can be better informed, and PT education curricular modifications can be advanced.

Key Words: Physical Therapist, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Interventions