Sensory processing difficulties often present in those with ASD and they can be very distractible. Strong reactions to different textures and over or under reactions to different stimuli in the environment can have a detrimental effect on quality of life.
When the water temperature, noise, and other distractions are taken into consideration, the hydrostatic pressure of the water can provide a soothing and calming effect as well as provide the necessary sensory input that many with ASD crave.
As a result, the water can be used as a safe environment when implementing interventions designed to help with sensory challenges.
Aquatic therapy, or pool therapy, is a form of exercise used to treat medical conditions and improve physical performance. It uses the physical properties of water—such as buoyancy and resistance—to assist in patient healing.
The buoyancy of water makes it easier for a patient to bear the weight placed on joints, decreasing stress and making therapy more effective.
Because the buoyancy of water decreases stress on joints, aquatic therapy is well-suited for people suffering from arthritis or recovering from broken bones.
The viscosity of water provides excellent resistance for strengthening muscles during aquatic therapy exercises, eliminating the need to use weights.
Using resistance and buoyancy, a person can strengthen muscle groups in ways that do not put stress on joints.
Hydrostatic pressure is used to decrease swelling and improve joint position awareness. The hydrostatic force produces pressures that are perpendicular to the body’s surface, providing positional awareness for patients with swollen joints.
Because of this, a patient’s proprioception is improved. This results in better balance for those who have experienced joint sprains—in cases where ligaments are torn and our sense of touch becomes less acute
Hydrotherapy can help decrease joint and soft tissue swelling due to injury or with arthritic disorders.
Aquatic therapy increases blood flow to injured areas and relaxes muscles, which helps treat patients who suffer from muscle spasms or back pain.
Participation in water exercise programs can help those with autism to develop physical coordination while the safe, supportive environment helps them build strength and endurance.
Exposing people on the autism spectrum to aquatics programs that include water-based exercise can help improve their gross motor coordination.
These improvements in fitness have been shown to translate into benefits that carry over into other aspects of life, such as allowing better participation in PE classes at school or playing games with others.
In addition, participation in water-based programs has led to a high satisfaction rating among children and parents as they are fun—and thus lead to greater motivation for regular physical activity.
Individuals with sensory processing difficulties often experience challenges related to attention and behaviour. Strong reactions to different textures or overreactions to stimuli in the environment can have a detrimental effect on the quality of life.
For people with autism, the water’s temperature, noise levels and other distractions have a calming effect as well as providing the necessary sensory input that many crave.
Because of this, the water can be used in place of other calming interventions to help with sensory disorders.
Increased social interaction and improved behaviour have been noted as important benefits of aquatic therapy and swimming lessons.
Children have been shown to improve in their social competence, self-regulation and antisocial behaviour when swimming or water therapy programs are used.
Taking part in group therapy or swimming lessons can help swimmers learn how to interact with their peers and cooperate during play, as well as keep physical boundaries and share toys.
Clinicians have noted that people with autism make more frequent and longer eye contact during bathing sessions.
Social challenges are one of the most difficult obstacles for parents and those with autism spectrum disorder to overcome, but swimming therapy can address these issues in ways that extend beyond the pool.
Autistic children are drawn to water, and unfortunately that has made them more prone than other kids their age to drown.
Learning to swim is a vital preventative measure and skill that everyone should know, so they can be safer around and enjoy the aquatic environment.
Aquatic therapy is as much about teaching water safety skills as it is about physical fitness.