Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Autism are both general terms for a group of complex disorders of brain development. These disorders are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. Autism can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances. Some persons with Autism excel in visual skills, music, math and art.
Autism appears to have its roots in very early brain development. However, the most obvious signs of autism and symptoms of autism tend to emerge between 2 and 3 years of age.
Aquatic Therapy is one of the many types of recreational therapy that can play a primary role in enhancing the quality of life and productivity of a child with Autism.
The following are some of the ways in which Aquatic Therapy can benefit children with autism:
The warm water provides a safe and supported environment, which not only supports the children, but also provides them with hydrostatic pressure that surrounds their body in the water. A majority of clinicians reported a substantial increase in tolerating touch following aquatic therapy.
Engaging in well-directed activities in the water helps the child gauge his own body boundaries better, allows him to regulate the force his body exerts when playing or working on tasks (thereby avoiding hurting himself and others), and improves his posture and coordination.
Social skills training can be engaged-in during group aquatic therapy sessions with specific skills being targeted. During group sessions, they not only have to work with the therapist, but they have to learn to engage their group mates, share toys and equipment, and experience cooperative and competitive play.
Aquatic therapy can focus on therapeutic play-based functional movement, improving range of motion, helping to facilitate neurodevelopmental growth, improved body awareness, and most importantly, having fun. One on one sessions of aquatic therapy can help a child with autism to improve their attention span, concentration, impulse control, frustration tolerance and ability to follow instructions.
Due to their communication difficulties, children with Autism respond better to visual cues and specific tangible rewards. Often using picture cards to explain what is requested of the child to do will work much better than verbal directions.
Exposing children with autism to aquatic therapy can increase their familiarity with water, their swimming skills and their understanding of safety hazards around water.