There are currently numerous different types of therapy options available out there for children with autism with ABA therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy being some of the more known and common ones. Hydrotherapy, on the other hand, has been around for a while and is used as a form of treatment for various conditions such as arthritis and even muscle disorders (Cleveland Clinic, 2021). Hydrotherapy, also known as aquatic physiotherapy, involves performing gentle exercises in a pool of warm water. It is an ideal environment for exercise as a result of its temperature, resistance, pressure, and density (Amy, 2019). Little did you know, this water-based therapy has also shown to be beneficial for individuals with special needs.
Here are some of the ways hydrotherapy is advantageous for children with ASD:
Motor functions, strength, and coordination
Due to the properties of water (ie. buoyancy and flow), doing exercises in it allows for a variety of gross motor skills to be performed more easily as water provides postural support, relieves a decent amount of weight, and relaxes the muscles (Mortimer et al., 2014). It also improves coordination as one would have to coordinate their arm and leg movements in order to stay afloat and maneuver in the water. Moreover, the pressure and resistance of being submerged in and performing exercises in the water enables the development of muscle strength without adding too much stress to the body (Fragala-Pinkham et al., 2008). Hydrotherapy also aids in the development of oral motor skills. Some skills children will learn in hydrotherapy, such as blowing bubbles, holding their breath, and breathing control, are skills that are extremely useful and can be adapted into speech therapy (Stanger, n.d.).
Reduces sensory issues
The hydrostatic pressure of the water can provide the necessary sensory input that individuals with ASD crave, as well as dampen sensory over-stimulation, creating a comfortable and relaxing environment similar to the concept of a weighted blanket (Larsen, 2020). Moreover, hydrotherapy has been found to result in a reduction of stimming or stereotypical movements such as spinning, head-nodding, and rocking behaviours (Mortimer et al., 2014). By addressing the sensory issues, it leads the individual with ASD to display greater levels of concentration and increased attention span (Stanger, n.d.). A study done by Yilmaz et al. (2004) also found that there was an increase in reaction to stimuli amongst the participants in their study.
Improves social skills
As hydrotherapy requires the child to work very closely with their instructor and/or peers, if conducted in a group setting, it inevitably increases their social skills. A certain level of communication, attention, and imitation skills are needed in order to learn new skills in hydrotherapy, which were observed to have increased in a number of studies reviewed in Mortimer and colleagues’ (2014) meta-analysis. Individuals with ASD would also show improvements in self-regulation as apart from the calming feeling the hydrostatic pressure elicits, they would also have to do their part in remaining calm in order to not disrupt the buoyancy of the water which causes them to sink (Amy, 2019).
Written by: Brenda
Amy. (2019, August 18). Some of the many benefits of swimming and aquatic therapy for those with ASD/other abilities. Autism Swim. https://autismswim.com.au/2019/08/18/some-of-the-many-benefits-of-swimming-and-aquatic-therapy-for-those-with-asd-other-abilities/
Cleveland Clinic. (2021, November 5). Types and health benefits of hydrotherapy. Cleveland Clinic. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-is-hydrotherapy/
Fragala-Pinkham, M., Haley, S. M., & O’Neil, M. E. (2008). Group aquatic aerobic exercise for children with disabilities. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, 50(11), 822–827. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1469-8749.2008.03086.x
Larsen, J. (2020, July 23). Hydrotherapy: What is it and how can it help your child? Source Kids. https://sourcekids.com.au/hydrotherapy-what-is-it-and-how-can-help-your-child/
Mortimer, R., Privopoulos, M., & Kumar, S. (2014). The effectiveness of hydrotherapy in the treatment of social and behavioral aspects of children with autism spectrum disorders: a systematic review. Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare, 7, 93–104. https://doi.org/10.2147/JMDH.S55345
Stanger, J. (n.d.). Benefits of hydrotherapy for autism spectrum disorder. Sunsational Swim School. https://www.sunsationalswimschool.com/blog/benefits-of-hydrotherapy-for-autism-spectrum-disorder
Yilmaz, I., Yanardag, M., Birkan, B., & Bumin, G. (2004). Effects of swimming training on physical fitness and water orientation in autism. Pediatrics International, 46(5), 624–626. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-200x.2004.01938.x