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How aquatic therapy can benefit children with disabilities

Ashley_and_Ella_Grimes CROPPED
Ashley Grimes says daughter Ella benefited from aquatic therapy at Our Children’s House at Baylor.

The following post was written by Elizabeth Niesman, a Physical Therapist at Our Children’s House at Baylor.

Not everyone loves being in a pool, but for those kids who do, it can be a great addition to therapy they may be receiving on land. Being in the pool is a fun, unconventional place to work on therapy goals. For some kids, it’s the first place they learn to stand without help.

Some of the diagnoses that can benefit from aquatics include spinal cord injuries, stroke, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, developmental delay, hypotonia and Down syndrome.

A pool has properties that allow the body to work differently than it can on land. Using buoyancy in the pool, the body is unweighted, which makes movements and activities seem easier to perform.

The pool is warmed to a therapeutic temperature from 92 to 98 degrees to allow for relaxation and comfort while swimming. Additional benefits of being in the water include decrease in spasticity, natural resistance to movement, and increased motivation for kids. It is also a great place to work on balance skills and assist with functional gains on land and the pool provides a lot of sensory input.

For Ashley Grimes, aquatic therapy was key to her daughter Ella’s recovery. Four years ago, Ella suffered a cerebral arteriovenous malformation (AVM) and stroke. Ella later underwent major brain surgery, followed by rehabilitation at Our Children’s House at Baylor, including aquatic therapy.

“Her therapist was wonderful and was great at trying new ways to incorporate her current goals in the gym to the water,” Ashley Grimes said. “This was the first type of therapy Ella graduated from at Baylor. She was able to accomplish so much through aquatic therapy and had fun while doing it.”

Ella particularly liked to walk around the pool, use the steps and socialize with other patients and therapists, Ashley said.

“Also, she loved reaching for the pool toys, placing them into a bucket, and then pouring the bucket of water onto her therapist’s head,” Ashley said.

The therapy helped Ella increase her walking and standing balance, learn to climb up and down stairs, as well as increase her range of motion in her right arm. She gained new skills quicker because she worked on them in the gym and in the pool.

To get started with aquatic therapy, talk to your doctor. He or she can then refer you to a physical therapist for an assessment on participation in an aquatics program.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What are some common diagnoses that aquatic therapy benefits?

Some of the common diagnoses of children that are in the pool include: muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, hypotonia, spinal cord injuries, developmental delay, Down syndrome and stroke.

Do all of the Our Children’s Houses offer aquatics?

No, the following locations do: Dallas, Frisco and Waxahachie.

How long does aquatic therapy typically last?

Aquatic therapy is a supplement to therapy on land. Most children will continue therapy on land even after completing aquatic therapy. The weekly sessions last for 30 minutes and it is typically a short-term supplement to therapy on land.

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How aquatic therapy can benefit children with disabilities