Aquatic Therapy

At ATF Center, our occupational therapy programs incorporate aquatic therapy for children with autism on a daily basis. This practice is rooted in the tremendous benefits it offers and the genuine enthusiasm it generates among the children. Our facility boasts a full-sized, heated outdoor pool, providing an ideal environment for this purpose. It's widely acknowledged that children, especially those with autism, naturally gravitate towards and find solace in water.

Submersion in water offers a calming effect, providing gentle pressure and buoyancy that significantly aid children on the autism spectrum. This immersive experience facilitates the development of sensory processing skills, empowers them to achieve new physical milestones, and enhances social skills and self-regulation abilities.

Aquatic therapy plays a pivotal role in sensory modulation. In essence, it involves activities designed to bolster sensory processing skills in children with autism, leveraging the water itself as a form of sensory modulation. Our approach ensures a safe and supportive environment, encouraging children to explore new skills. Warm water, in particular, delivers three essential forms of sensory support for children with autism:

1.Pressure: The water's gentle pressure aids in sensory regulation.

2.Buoyancy: This property of water facilitates movement and helps in physical development.

3.Sensory Stimulation: The aquatic environment offers sensory experiences that contribute to overall skill development and relaxation.

More about the program

Children with autism are known to crave deep pressure. Water provides this through hydrostatic pressure, or the pressure that a liquid exerts when it’s at rest. Water exerts 30x more deep pressure stimulation on the body than air. More importantly, unlike pressure vests or weighted blankets, water completely surrounds and envelopes the child’s body, perfectly distributing an equal and consistent amount of pressure on all submerged parts of the body. The result is an especially calming environment that soothes children with autism, helps them organize other sensory inputs, and gives them more confidence to try new movements.

Some of the obsessive, repetitive behaviors that children with autism exhibit, such as rocking and twirling, are directly related to an underdeveloped vestibular system. Children with autism usually engage in these activities because they are trying, by external measures, to develop a sense of balance. Unfortunately, these maladaptive modulations are also distracting and, too often, self-destructive. By contrast, moving around in water creates a controlled vestibular situation that is safe and more effective than other methods.

In addition to all of the sensory processing benefits, aquatic therapy also helps children with autism develop physically. Of course, any type of exercise is beneficial, but moving in water works more muscles simultaneously than any other exercise! Water exercise not only strengthens all muscles, including the heart, it also improves coordination, range of motion, balance, and endurance—all skills that tend to be underdeveloped in children with autism.

More importantly, being in water makes the body more lighter and more buoyant, and reduces the fear of injury, making children with autism feel more confident trying new movements that they might never try on land. This confidence, in turn, gives them an increased sense of mastery and accomplishment, usually through the use of play-based, functional movements.

Finally, working in water can enhance core strength, reduce pain and stress on the joints and soft tissues, improve motor planning and fine motor skills, strengthen oral motor skills (such as blowing out candles or drinking through a straw), and increase breathing control.

On top of all of the other benefits of aquatic therapy, being in the water is just plain fun. After a successful session, many occupational therapists report that children with autism are more talkative and social, better able to cooperate—and more interested in imaginative and group play.

The calming effects of being in water tend to last well past the initial session. Psychologically, hydrotherapy often results in better moods, better impulse control, improved self-esteem and body image, decreased anxiety, and a marked drop in problem behaviors.

Our occupational therapists use all methods at our disposal to help your child achieve success, and even thrive.