Water Play for Kids with Special Needs Offers Swimmingly Good Times

Boy Playing in Baby Pool

When the weather’s hot and humid, there’s nothing like a dip in the pool. And while swimming in a pool is one of the best ways to cool off, it certainly isn’t the only option. Whether it’s a day at the beach, a physical therapy session at the gym, a hosing off in the driveway or just splashing around in a plastic kiddy pool in the backyard, getting wet is one of the joys of summertime. For people with special needs, waterplay also has additional benefits you may not have considered.  Here are some of the ways in which water can be wonderfully therapeutic.

Increases sensory integration
According to Ilana Danneman, a physical therapist writing for Friendship Circle, “water activities are a tremendous asset to a starved or overactive sensory system. Water can energize, and yet it can also calm.” In the water, people with sensory integration challenges learn to acclimate to water temperature and texture, and may become more comfortable getting water on their faces and in their eyes. These skills can translate into important activities of daily living such as bathing and showering.

Builds strength and flexibility
Wonderbaby.org stresses the value of aquatic therapy for children who are blind or have developmental delays: “Water provides a natural resistance that can increase muscle strength, but this resistance is proportional to the effort exerted against it, so the harder you push or kick, the more of a workout you get. If you can’t push as hard, you get a small work out. The water automatically adjusts to your child’s needs.” Whether your child struggles with high muscle tone or low muscle tone, aquatic therapy is a terrific way to stretch and strengthen muscles.

Improves motor planning skills
Being in the water helps people who face challenges with proprioceptive input, such as those who are blind. “The constant light pressure that surrounds the body in the water is the perfect antidote to this problem,” since that pressure increases body awareness, says Wonderbaby.

Develops balancing skills
Water is a safe place to exercise and to practice balancing since the lack of gravity removes fears of falling on hard surfaces. As Danneman points out, “a baby pool can afford an emergent walker an opportunity to work on gait training and balance skills using a ring or float, much like a floor walker. Kids who are more advanced can walk and play around without the ring.”

Increases socialization and communication opportunities
Water is a great equalizer making it easier for children with mobility challenges to keep up with friends and family members. According to the folks at Kids Craft Room.com, “Water play can be an avenue for children to take their first steps from “playing alongside someone” to actually “playing with someone” as they follow other children’s ideas and join in with them.

Encourages water safety
Swimming lessons are a must for children with disabilities, particularly, children with autism who are prone to wandering. “Tragically, the leading cause of death among individuals with autism after wandering is drowning,” says Autism Speaks. The organization stresses the importance of starting to teach children about water safety and providing swimming lessons as early as possible.