Communication and social impairment are considered to be two of the core deficits in children with autism. Also, gross motor disability influences their socialization skills. Aquatic therapy for autism is a multisystem technique for ameliorating functional weaknesses and disorders in children with autism, which goes far beyond just a swimming practice.
Children with autism have sensory integration disorder that can vary in severity. This sensory deficit triggers inappropriate social behavior or self-destructive behaviors. To minimize these issues through sensory modulations, the therapists support aquatic therapy. Aquatic therapy for autism includes activities to help children strengthen their sensory processing skills. The warm water of the pool provides three types of sensory support:
- Hydrostatic Pressure
In aquatic therapy for autism, the water applies 30 times more pressure on the body than air. Unlike weighted blankets and pressure vests, the pool water surrounds the child’s body completely, distributing an equal amount of pressure on the submerged parts. The calming environment helps the child to relax, soothes him/her to establish other sensory inputs, and provide confidence to try new water movements and exercises.
- Vestibular Stimulation
Children with autism usually try to stimulate their vestibular system or the inner ear. This vestibular stimulation helps with balance, and know ‘when and how fast’ it is moving. Some of the obsessive and repetitive behaviors in children, such as rocking and spinning, are often referred to as an underdeveloped vestibular system. Children engage in these activities to develop a sense of balance. Unfortunately, these obsessive behaviors are distracting and can also cause serious harm.
In contrast to these repetitive behaviors, moving around in warm water of the pool creates an organized vestibular situation that is safe and more effective.
- Proprioceptive Feedback
Proprioception or the sixth sense is the ability that helps children to understand where they stand and how their movement should be. But this sense is underdeveloped in children with autism. Without proper proprioceptive development, they walk with a clumsy or strange gait. Thus, the pressure, weight and the resistance of the water provides children with better proprioceptive feedback. Aquatic therapy for autism improves the sensory processing skills, ability to focus and enjoy an improved mood. They also experience enhanced body awareness, touch tolerance, and the ability to recognize various sensory inputs.
Aquatic therapy with various water exercises strengthens the muscles and joint flexibility in the entire body. Being underwater improves limb coordination, balance, and physical endurance in children with autism.
In all, aquatic therapy for autism improves the motor skills of individuals with autism or autism spectrum disorders. The therapy is also useful in treating motor and functional.