How does Aquatic Therapy benefit my child with Autism?
Aquatic therapy entails benefits for the brain and learning, psychological and behavioral benefits, and beneficial effects on joint position sense and muscle coordination.
Inappropriate or exaggerated responses of anxiety to any unpleasant stimuli in children with Autism spectrum disorders are believed to be due to an autonomic nervous system dysfunction causing an over arousal of sympathetic nervous system and a depression of the parasympathetic nervous system. Such an altered autonomic nervous system function is thought to be one of causal factors in Autism Spectrum disorders.
An increased blood supply to brain and cardiac systems also leads to the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system and suppression of the sympathetic nervous system; after immersion in water. Mere immersion in water therefore helps reduce anxiety, hyperactivity, repetitive motor mannerisms, stereotypical behavioral and inappropriate emotional responses. Water immersion results in calming of the children on spectrum.
Buoyancy and upthrust experienced in water provides freedom of movement, which is lacking on land due to poor motor planning and coordination and increased risk of fall. Water supports the child but at the same time creates a relatively unstable environment providing vestibular inputs. Viscosity of water combined with hydrostatic pressure provides proprioceptive inputs. These are crucial in addressing the low tone and incoordination in these children.
Shoulder or Neck deep immersion increases the cardiac output and also created a larger pressure gradient in the blood pumped out and the blood vessels of brain, thereby increasing the blood supply to the brain. Increased blood supply means that brain receives nutrients much more efficiently and the toxic waste is taken away quickly. Water immersion therefore has a beneficial effect for memory and cognitive tasks.