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Water Therapy for Autism

by Leslie Gabriel July 31, 2014

For the autistic child or adult, the world can sometimes be an over stimulating, confusing place. The many challenges that may stem from the condition can seem overwhelming at times. Aquatic therapy, or water therapy, is a type of recreational therapy for autism that is successfully being used to help with those challenges. It addresses some of the most common difficulties that the person with autism faces – with a high degree of success.


Water has long been used for physical therapy and to rehabilitate the body after illness or injury. It provides a perfect environment for very low impact and decreased stress on the body because it reduces the body weight by 90 percent.

Water therapy has been shown to help autistic children and adults with balance and muscle strength. It also helps with posture and coordination as well as learning body boundaries.


Autism can cause some cognitive challenges in individuals but water therapy has been a successful method of working with many of those challenges. It helps them with improved body awareness, neurodevelopmental growth and range of motion. The one on one sessions work well to help with concentration, improving the attention span, controlling impulses, following instructions and how to handle frustration better.


People with autism typically have some sensory issues (sensory processing disorder, or SPD). They react poorly to bright lights or certain types of lights, to noise, to certain textures, to certain tastes and certain odors. Some do not like to be hugged or even touched.

Aquatic therapy, when done in a sensory friendly environment, can help with SPD, particularly tactile and being touched. The hydrostatic pressure caused by the water surrounding the person’s body is often comforting and studies show that many autistic patients who undergo water therapy become better at tolerating touch.


Many individuals with autism face significant challenges with social skills and interpersonal relations. During aquatic therapy the person is engaged with the therapist and with group sessions they must learn how to engage the others in the group. The water provides a safe, low stress environment which is relaxing and makes it easier for social skills to be exercised.

Many clinicians report that autistic patients who use aquatic therapy for their autism experience increased self-esteem and a more positive attitude. Increased eye contact is also often noted as a result of the therapy.

Water is an outstanding tool for helping individuals with autism. Autistic adults can benefit from aquatic therapy just like children can. As more adults are recognized as being on the spectrum, more doors are opening for help. For both autistic children and autistic adults, though, water therapy can be the answer to a prayer.


Leslie Gabriel
Leslie Gabriel


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