Water Therapy for Autism

 

How Water Therapy can assist those who live with Autism.

Overview of Autism


As reported by the AIHW, according to the ABS Survey of Disability, Ageing and Carers, an estimated 16,4000 Australians had autism in 205. This is approximately 1 in 150 Australians. The number of people with autism increased dramatically, up from 64,400 people in 2009. Of those who were estimated to have autism in 2015, 88% were identified as also having disability.

Autism is a neurological developmental condition that typically appears during early childhood. It affects the individual's social skills, communication, relationships, and self-regulation. 

There currently isn't one specific cause of autism, which alone makes it less manageable and much harder to diagnose at an earlier age. 

That being said, early diagnosis helps people receive support and services they need with better success rates and leads to quality lives filled with opportunity.


The Centers For Disease, Control and Prevention recognises many signs of autism. While the signs and symptoms can be varied from person to person, the signs fall into 3 recognised categories:

• Social Skills, Communication and Interaction Skills

• Restricted or Repetitive Behaviours or Interests

• Other Characteristics


And while we cannot even begin to mention every sign or symptom that may appear (as it is so incredibly varied), there are some primary indicators and characteristics of someone having autism that is noteworthy, such as:

• Avoids or does not keep eye contact

• Has trouble understanding and processing other people's feelings or talking about own feelings at 36 months of age or older

• Repeats words or phrases over and over 

• Gets upset by minor changes

• Flaps their hands, rocks body, or spins self in circles

• Hyperactive, impulsive, and/or inattentive behaviour

• Lacks fear or more fear than expected

• Delayed cognitive, movement, language, or learning skills

 
Autism may be observed for many months or years during early childhood before a diagnosis is given. Even then, it may be related to another medical condition or behavioural issue.

What is Autism?


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a specific neurological condition that affects the way people communicate with and relate to other people and develop how they experience the world. 

It was first identified in 1943 by Dr. Leo Kanner and has since been classified into three main types: 

• High-functioning autism

• Asperger's Syndrome

• Regressive autism. 


The cause of autism as a spectrum disorder is unknown, but it is thought to be linked to genetics, environmental factors, or both. 

Along with an ASD diagnosis comes various challenges such as social interaction difficulties, motor skill deficits, and unusual speech patterns, all of which can affect the individual in different ways, with differing levels of severity.


Who is more likely to suffer from autism?

Autism can be challenging to diagnose, and there is no single test that can confirm whether a person has autism. There are, however, many tools that clinicians use when identifying the disorder. These include observing behaviour and communication skills, measuring eye contact, assessing sociability, and examining IQ. 

Other methods of diagnosis include the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule (ADOS) and the Social Communication Questionnaire for Autism Spectrum Disorders (SCQ-ASD).

There are generally two methods of treatment for autism: behavioural therapy and medication. 

Behavioural therapy includes teaching specific behaviours such as learning how to communicate more effectively or how to interact socially with others. 

Medication can help calm an autistic person's anxiety levels by reducing hyperactivity or anxiety in general.

One thing we do know about autism is that it's much more likely to be found in males than females. This isn't because females are less likely to be autistic, but because males make up a more significant percentage of cases. This means that men are 4 times more likely to suffer from autism spectrum disorder than women.

Research has shown that children who have a family member with autism are four times more likely to also be diagnosed with autism than children without a family member with the condition.

Symptoms of Autism


Autism Spectrum Disorder is a condition that is incredibly difficult to pin down through just one set of definitive signs and symptoms.  Autism is known as a neurological spectrum disorder, and the spectrum part of the condition relates to the fact that it is incredibly varied from one end of the scale where one person might feel one symptom quite mildly, to the other end of the spectrum where a person may feel every plausible symptom on an extreme basis. There is no telling which symptoms will come from one person at any one time.

There are many recognised symptoms, which can include one or multiple variations, including:

• Avoiding eye contact

• Struggling to understand the emotions of others and talking about their own feelings

• Repeats a selection of words or phrases repeatedly, almost as a mantra.

• Have trouble processing minor changes in life due to limited cognitive awareness or ability; any deviation in a learned routine will cause upset.

• Flaps hands in anxiety, rock body back and forth, or spins around in circles because they can't settle down. 

• Displays hyperactive behaviour that can be out of control

• Lacks most fears at a young age, such as the danger of roads or hot kitchen appliances. 

• Delayed language skills are often coupled with delayed movement skills. People with autism may have difficulty taking their first steps and struggle with simple child-led games such as peekaboo or simple noise-making games.

Water Therapy & Autism


When someone is formally and medically diagnosed with autism, they are often prescribed specific forms of therapy to help them in their treatment and help them to develop a practical way to live a great life with their particular symptoms. One of the more effective methods of therapy is water therapy, otherwise known as hydrotherapy or aquatic therapy. Water therapy involves structured activities that revolve around water.

Water therapy, developing aquatic skills and swimming skills can play an essential role in enhancing their quality of life, improving productivity, and helping them understand the world and its difficulties with meaningful and fun therapeutic programs. 

The benefits of water therapy and of developing both aquatic skills and swimming skills are well documented for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and have proven to be one of the more effective forms of treatment.

Water provides a safe environment and is perfect for ASD exercise and rehabilitation due to its consistent temperature, buoyancy, density, pressure, and resistance. It also helps to reduce body weight, relax the muscles, and decrease stress.

These properties of water have been proven to help those with ASD regulate their anxiety levels and reduce symptoms.

With consistent water therapy programs, improvements can be experienced in the following areas:

• Motor functions (strength, balance, coordination, and endurance)

• Sensory

• Cognition

• Communication

• Social

• Emotion


Motor Function

Participating in water exercise programs exposes those with ASD to different physical activity that challenge gross motor skills and coordination and improve muscular strength, balance, range of motion and endurance without intimidation and with safety.

These improvements in fitness from aquatic therapy have helped confidence and been shown to translate to benefits in other aspects of life, such as allowing better participation with others and thereby improving quality of life and independence.

In addition, participation in water-based groups programs has resulted in high satisfaction; they are fun and often result in a greater motivation to engage in regular physical activity and with others.


Sensory

Sensory and processing difficulties can often present in those with ASD. Reactions to different textures and strong over or under-reactions to different stimuli in the aquatic environment can hinder the quality of life and societal integration.

The hydrostatic pressure of the water in the pool can provide a soothing calming effect and also provides the necessary sensory input that many of those suffering from ASD crave. 

As a result, the water can be a safe environment when implementing interventions designed to help with sensory challenges, balance out a bad day or set the day on a balanced note.


Social

One of the most essential benefits of water therapy is the change in social behaviours and social interactions with others that occur in the aquatic environment.

Improvement in social competence in friend relations, self-regulation, and antisocial behaviour have been observed following aquatic therapy programs.

When participating in group aquatic exercise program, in the water, ASD sufferers can learn how to engage with others, cooperate and take turns, keep physical boundaries, and share equipment (to name just a few). 

Clinicians have also reported significant improvements in initiating and maintaining eye contact during and after water therapy sessions.

The challenges in social behaviours can be one of the most challenging obstacles for parents and those suffering from ASD to overcome. Water therapy is a promising form of therapy that can have lasting implications well beyond the pool.


Communication

Difficulties relating to and communicating with others is a common challenge for those with ASD, and it forms part of the diagnostic criteria.  

When participating in aquatic group programs, the opportunity to interact with others assists with the development of communication skills.  

The increased opportunity helps develop communication and oral motor skills and has a positive impact on the development of behaviour and social learning.


Cognition

For many with ASD, the properties of the water and aquatic therapy program help to moderate anxiety levels, which can help make it easier to concentrate and maintain attention.

Group aquatic therapy programs that focus on instructional functional movement can facilitate neurodevelopmental growth. It can also help manage impulse control and the ability to follow instructions and skill development.

Studies have also shown that participation in aquatic therapy programs can improve concentration, mental alertness, and responsiveness to others outside of the pool in a school or work environment. 

Improvements in cognition can profoundly impact the quality of living, developing independence, and their ability to participate in the community as functioning adults.


Emotion

People living with ASD often encounter additional barriers to learning a new skill, which can then lead to decreased confidence and self-esteem. They often fear 'they can do this' and 'everyone is watching.' 

The submersion in the water removes the ability to see what others are doing, thus removing the fear that others are watching, providing a safe space to try and develop aquatic skills. 

Finishing a water program/class leads to a sense of achievement and accomplishment, increasing confidence, and improving self-esteem. While the soothing effects of the water can help regulate emotions such as frustration and anxiety levels that may have been present.

Water Therapy Equipment & Autism


An Aqua Trampoline is a great piece of equipment that helps the symptoms and manageability of Autism.

It is:

• A fun way to burn excess energy and it can counter hyperactivity, especially children

• Can promote restful recovery and improve sleep patterns

• This workout requires you to co-ordinate your arms and legs, adjust the position of your body accordingly for improvement in motor functions awareness, balance, and coordination. 

• Relaxes the whole body and mind, which may help with mood fluctuations. The water creates a feeling of calm and serenity, which can be helpful for the overall wellbeing.

• The water’s hydrostatic pressure significantly increases blood flow so that muscles don’t fatigue as quickly and the person feels protected

• Reduces the instances of being unsafe in a public environment

An Aqua Bike is also a great piece of aquatic equipment that can help alleviate the symptoms of Autism and enables exercise with minimal disruption to life as it can be:  

• A fun way to burn excess energy it can counter hyperactivity, especially adults and teenage children.

• Relaxes the whole body and mind, which may help with mood fluctuations. The water creates a feeling of calm and serenity, which can be helpful for the overall wellbeing.

• It helps avoid the pain associated with post-exercise which may be a deterrent to someone with autism

• Allows more protected exercise in a calm environment

• Reduces the instances of being unsafe in a public environment

Note: Please seek medical advice before exercising & always train under the advice your medical specialist.

PEOPLE WE HAVE HELPED WITH AUTISM

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