What Is W-Sitting & Is It a Sign of Autism? 

What Is W-Sitting & Is It a Sign of Autism? 

If you have a child, there is a good chance you’ll have noticed them sitting with their legs in a W-shaped position. W-sitting is a very normal position for children to sit in whilst playing on the floor. In this article, Therapy Stars outline everything you need to know about W-sitting and whether it is a sign of autism. 

So, what is W-sitting and is it a sign of autism? W-sitting is used to describe the specific position a child makes when they have their knees out in front of them, with their ankles and feet to either side of their hips. This creates a W shape. Whilst W-sitting tends to be a common position for children with autism, it’s important to remember that W-sitting is not actually a sign of autism itself.  

Keep reading to find out what W-sitting is in further detail and how to encourage your child to choose alternative sitting positions. 

What Is W-Sitting? 

To put simply, W-sitting is used to describe the position a child makes when they sit with their knees out in front of them, with their ankles and feet to either side of their hips. This is where the ‘W’ comes from. For children, sitting in the W position is very common and is actually part of their typical development. 

Children may sit in this position because it gives them a wide base of support during play and other activities. This is because, in this position, the child does not need to use their core muscles as much to sit upright. 

Having said that, you may have read or heard about issues related to W-sitting. If a child sits in this position too often, it may cause or indicate issues with gross and fine motor development. At times, it may even be a sign of other developmental issues that need to be addressed. 

Is W-Sitting a Sign of Autism? 

Whilst it is believed that children with autism tend to prefer sitting in the W position due to sensory processing issues, W-sitting is not a direct sign of autism. W-sitting is in actual fact very common and normal for children. 

When your child’s W-sitting coincides with developmental delays that include social interaction delays, communication or speech delays, repetitive behaviour and restrictive routines, then a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder could be made. 

What Risks are Associated With W-Sitting? 

On its own, W-sitting is not something to be concerned about. According to the International Hip Dysplasia Institute, W-sitting is often observed around age 3 but naturally fades out as your child grows up. If your child only sits in this position occasionally, it’s most likely just a comfortable way to play or relax. 

However, many physical and occupational therapists share concerns about W-sitting. If you are consistently seeing your child favouring this position, you may want to consider the following

Leg Weakness

Children like sitting in the W-position because their legs aren’t always strong enough to keep them stable during play. However, when they sit in a W position, the legs take the brunt of the muscle work and the core muscles are not developed. 

Hip Dysplasia

If your child has been diagnosed with a congenital or developmental hip issue, W-sitting is a position you will want to discourage. This is because sitting in the W position can put a strain on the hips and joints, thereby increasing the likelihood of dislocation. 

Orthopaedic Issues

Sitting in the W position too often can cause tight muscles in the legs and hips. If your child’s muscles are tight, they may inhibit normal motion, affecting their coordination and balance. Most often, the muscles that are affected include the hamstrings, hip adductors and achilles tendon. 

Signs to look out for: changes in your child’s gait, such as walking pigeon-toed or with the feet turned in. 

Bilateral Coordination Issues 

W-sitting may be a sign that your child is avoiding coordination and independent movement on the right and left sides of the body. Sitting in this position limits motion of the trunk and discourages reaching across the body. 

For example, your child may decide to reach for things to the right of their body with only the right hand and things to the left of their body with only the left hand. 

Increased Muscle Tightness 

If your child has increased muscle tone or certain neurological conditions, like cerebral palsy, W-sitting may make their muscles tighter. Over time, sitting in other positions may even become difficult. 

What Can You Do About Your Child’s W-Sitting? 

If your child enjoys W-sitting, there are certain steps you can take to break their sitting habit. 

Encourage a Variety of Sitting Positions 

Try and encourage your child to try different positions, such as these from British Columbia’s Quesnel & District Child Development Centre:

  • Criss-cross sitting (alternate which leg is on top)
  • Tailor-sitting (both legs bent with feet touching)
  • Side-sitting (knees bent with both feet on the same side of the body)
  • Long-sitting (legs straight out in front)
  • Kneeling 
  • Squatting 

Be Positive 

Instead of simply saying, ‘Fix your legs!’, try telling your child to, “Move into criss-cross legs so you can build strong muscles.” Always keep the spin positive. For younger children, you may even want to tickle or hug them to shimmy them into a new position without them noticing. 

Offer Different Seating Options 

Alternative seating options will encourage your child to move around often and help balance the strain on the legs. Here are some examples:

Alternative Movement 

Find different ways to get your child moving to encourage development. Some examples include:

  • Yoga 
  • Pilates
  • The game Twister 
  • Playground play (balance beam, climbing slides)

Treatment Options 

There are many different treatment options available for W-sitting. These include:

  • Physiotherapy 
  • Occupational therapy 
  • Behavioural therapy 
  • Assistive devices 

Children’s Physiotherapy With Therapy Stars 

If you are worried about your child’s development, you’ve come to the right place. At Therapy Stars, we are committed to helping your child reach their full mobility potential. Suitable for children aged 4-12 years old, our Child Physiotherapy service benefits a range of conditions, including cerebral palsy, poor balance as well as coordination and developmental delays. 

We use a range of specialist treatments and child physiotherapy exercises to find the right treatment options for your child. On top of this, we also offer advice to parents, carers and schools to encourage development outside of the clinic.

For more information, book a complimentary call with a member of our friendly team.