Benefits of Hydrotherapy for Autism Spectrum Disorder

Benefits of Hydrotherapy for Autism Spectrum Disorder

Time spent in the water can have so many wonderful benefits! This is especially true when it comes to the opportunity to utilize hydrotherapy, or aquatic therapy, for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In basic terms, this is a recreational type of therapy utilizing the benefits of water to improve movement, develop skills and to decrease limitations in ways that can improve functions and enhance quality of life.

General Water Safety

Let’s start with the general safety around the water. Though there can be a lot of fun and excitement around water, there is always a risk and danger associated with it as well. Proper, supervised time in the water, whether for fun, therapy, or both, helps to develop an understanding for the fundamentals of swimming as well as rules and guidelines for being at the pool or around open bodies of water. It is always a good idea to review some basic water safety practices, especially with summer right around the corner!

Aquatic Therapy Physical Benefits

We all know that water provides a great source of exercise, working the entire body with cardiovascular and muscular benefits. Water also creates the unique state of buoyancy and body weight reduction allowing for the body to work in ways that it may not be able to on land. Water has a natural way of decreasing stress and relaxing the muscles enabling someone with ASD to experience a greater sense of body awareness and muscle control. This allows an individual to engage and use muscles in a more intentional way. Fun, play-like water exercises and movements can increase core and muscle strength which then helps to improve coordination, balance, and posture. This is extremely beneficial with ASD as there is often limited motor function and range of motion which can all be improved with increased strength and body control.

Similar to the physical and motor function benefits, water therapy also aids in facial and oral motor skills. Some individuals with ASD struggle with speech and language and other abilities like sipping through a straw or blowing out candles. These skills involve facial and oral muscle control and can greatly impact quality of life. The water provides great opportunity for building these muscles and developing the control and technique for these skills. Blowing bubbles into the water requires fine motor control of the lips and mouth and emulates the use of a straw. Holding one’s breath to go under water has a similar effect and there are numerous exercises and activities to teach how to hold your breath that can help to introduce and encourage these concepts. As these exercises are worked on and improved in the water, the motions, movements, and muscle control can then be used in speech therapy and the formation of sounds, letters, and words.

Sensory Issues

Individuals with ASD frequently have sensory difficulties related to textures, touch, and other such stimuli. Often this becomes extremely distracting and upsetting for the person which exacerbates social and behavioral interactions and relationships. Water provides a natural, evenly supportive pressure creating a safe, calm, and comfortable environment, like a weighted blanket, while acclimating the individual to the feeling of touch. The buoyancy of water provides increased balance and stability which often decreases the need for engaging in repetitive movements such as rocking or twirling. While addressing the sensory issues, this also works to decrease distractions and increase attention span and concentration. When these issues are more manageable, engaging in life is much more feasible and enjoyable.

Social and Behavioral Skills

Whether aquatic therapy is done in a group setting or one-on-one, there are many social and behavioral benefits as well. Therapy of any kind requires communication, attention, and the ability to follow direction. The individual is developing relationship and rapport with the instructor and possibly with peers if in a group setting. Communication, whether verbal or non-verbal, is a necessary component learning new skills and aquatic therapy is no different. Watching, listening and cognitively processing directions all help in developing communication skills while also increasing attention span and concentration. These are essential skills that translate to improved relationships with family, the development of peer relationships, and the adjustment to school or other such formalized and structured environments.

Hydrotherapy has an incredible way of allowing someone to accomplish feats that they perhaps could not on land. Through these experiences, there is often a sense of accomplishment and growth in confidence and self-esteem.

Hydrotherapy for individuals with ASD provides countless benefits- physically, behaviorally, mentally, and emotionally- often leading to a more well adjusted and better quality of life. And for some, this experience can lead to a love of swimming.

Swim lessons for individuals with autism are a great next step for those who really take to the water and want to advance their water skills even more! Hire a Sunsational Swim Instructor to travel to your home or community pool for private at-home swimming lessons today!

Jennifer Stanger’s bio:

Swim Instructor in Charlotte, NC

Jennifer moved to Charlotte, NC several years ago after growing up in CT and living in various states in the New England and New York area. She was a competitive swimmer from ages 5-18 competing at both local and state levels. She started teaching swim lessons and coaching at the age of 16 and has continued her love of swimming. She now teaches group exercise classes at the local YMCAs, works in the behavioral and mental health industry and continues to swim while also taking up the love of distance running. She continues to teach swim lessons to all ages and abilities as it is a way of sharing a positive experience of her own childhood with others.


Sunsational Swim School is the 🥇 #1 rated provider of private, at-home swimming lessons in America. We have specialized swim instructors for students ages 6 months to adult, beginner to advanced. Featured on ABC, CBS, Impact 100, The List and others, Sunsational instructors have a minimum of 2 years of teaching experience, are CPR certified and insured, and have collectively taught over 302,223 lessons for more than 74,415 students nationwide!

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