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                            AqUATIC THERAPY


As part of the UCLA Intervention Program for special needs children, Camille participated in the PolyWogs program, a form of aquatic therapy.  For more information about the UCLA Intervention Program, click here.


Aquatic therapy provides numerous benefits to patients as it reinforces the abilities and tasks of land-based therapy to create a cohesive program. Aquatic therapy encourages:

• Decreased pain, stiffness, muscle spasm and muscle guarding

• Improved posture, balance and coordination

  • •Enhanced relaxation and freedom of movement for increased muscle tone

  • •Increased circulation, range of motion, strength and endurance

• Better mobility through reduced joint strain

  • •Stronger morale and self-esteem with the increased opportunity to succeed

  • • Enhanced sensory feedback and body awareness


What Aquatic Therapy Offers

Aquatic therapy is much more than a simple swim.  Individualized programs are

designed specifically for reinforcement of key physical therapy or occupational

therapy principles. Aquatic therapy combines instruction, guidance and specialized

exercises to facilitate relaxation and therapeutic effects. Licensed physical therapy 

or occupational therapy staff with specialized aquatics training work with each

patient to address specific areas of need.


Who Can Benefit from Aquatic Therapy

Aquatic therapy offers an effective therapy choice for children with rehabilitation needs and those with developmental disorders. Programs are especially effective for children who have:

•Traumatic injuries

•Bone, joint or muscle disorders

•Neurological and developmental disorders

•Sensory processing/integration disorders

•Connective tissue diseases

•Orthopaedic injuries

•Other conditions requiring the use of this special treatment modality


Among the range of interventions that a recreational therapist might choose, one unique and very successful alternative for individuals with developmental delays is aquatic therapy. Water activities provide children with proprioceptive and tactile input. Children with developmental delays often have significant sensory difficulties, and are very distractible. These children over or under react to stimuli in their environment and have very strong reactions to certain textures. The warm water provides a safe and supported environment, which not only supports the children, but also provides them with hydrostatic pressure that surrounds their body in the water. This pressure actually soothes and calms the children, providing the necessary sensory input they crave. 

Aquatics activities are a fun and enjoyable experience that have many physical, psycho social, cognitive, and recreational benefits. Research continues to support the concept that water is the ideal medium in which to exercise or rehabilitate the body. Water provides an environment, which reduces body weight by 90%, decreasing stress or impact on the body. Warm water also reduces spasticity and relaxes muscles.

For children with developmental delays, aquatic therapy can focus on therapeutic play-based functional movement, improving range of motion, helping to facilitate neurodevelopmental growth, improved body awareness, increased balance, sensory integration, mobility skills and most importantly, having fun. The Aquatic Therapy and Rehabilitation Institute defines Aquatic Therapy as "The use of water and specifically designed activity by qualified personnel to aid in the restoration, extension, maintenance and quality of function for persons with acute, transient, or chronic disabilities, syndromes or diseases". Clients with developmental delays present an interesting opportunity for recreational therapists to use aquatic therapy interventions as part of their overall treatment plan.

Due to their communication difficulties, children with developmental delays respond better to visual cues and specific tangible rewards. Often using picture cards to explain what you are requesting the child to do will work much better than verbal directions. In an aquatic environment these cards will need to be laminated or somehow waterproofed. Using a digital camera or simply using hand-drawn pictures, the aquatic recreational therapist can place these pictures in a sequence for the child. A simple strip of Velcro on a laminated card can greatly enhance the child’s ability to be successful during aquatic therapy interventions. Another way to ensure a more positive response is to use the ‘First, Then’ concept. When asking the child to complete a task reinforce the concept of positive consequences using the phrase “fist you need to___, then you can___”. Using rewards is very effective when dealing with children and this also aids in understanding the concepts of time and task completion that children with developmental delays may have difficulty with. 

However, children with developmental delays present significant safety risks when in the pool. Their lack of response to verbal commands, and their distractible nature can present great challenges for even the most careful therapists. It is essential to maintain intense supervision of these clients at all times, particularly in an aquatic environment. 

There are many important considerations when choosing aquatic therapy as an option for working with children with developmental delays. The therapist must evaluate the water temperature and the distractions in the aquatic environment. Because these children are very sensitive to sensory input, the water temperature must be warm and comfortable, or the child will not respond favorably.

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