Webinar Recap: Aquatic Therapy for Sensory Processing Disorder
We recently hosted a webinar titled “Can Aquatic Therapy Benefit Children with Sensory Processing Disorder?” presented by Hima Dilal, owner of Vital Energy Wellness and Rehab Center in Columbia, SC. This webinar reviewed what sensory processing disorder (SPD) is along with the many ways that aquatic therapy can benefit children who may exhibit SPD along with other diagnoses.
In Hima’s experience, SPD is not a well-understood diagnosis and that is partly due to the fact that there are so many variations in how it manifests itself, such as:
- Gravitational insecurity
- Tactile defensiveness
Considering it is often a secondary diagnosis to an overarching primary diagnosis, treating SPD can be complicated. Aquatic therapy is the best way to provide sensory input to begin improvements. Here are a few reasons why aquatic therapy can help:
- Hydrostatic pressure – provides joint positional awareness, helps with blood circulation and improves joint proprioception.
- Viscosity – provides resistance to increase muscle strength, improves trunk stability and stimulates body awareness.
- Temperature – promotes muscle relaxation, decreases tactile defensiveness, increases blood flow, decreases pain, decreases spasticity and increases flexibility.
- Buoyancy – allows baby to float like in mother’s womb and reduces weight on joints.
- Jets – increases child’s tolerance to touch and helps with muscle soreness.
- Psychological effects – reduces stress and anxiety, improves attitude and morale and helps with self-care.
For Hima, the goal with SPD patients is for them to be independent, to decrease fatigue, improve postural awareness, exhibit good fine and gross motor skills, manage social and environmental cues, remove their distractability and to process sensory information correctly.
During this webinar, Hima provided multiple case studies of children with varying conditions which also exhibited SPD and how well aquatic therapy has worked for them.
Following the webinar, Hima fielded questions from attendees. Below are a few of the questions and answers:
Q: Do you have a standard protocol for frequency and duration for these patients?
A: Infants shouldn’t be seen more than 30 minutes, in my experience they will fatigue at 20-25 minutes. For the older population, when the child stops following instruction, loses good posture or begins to exhibit signs of excessive fatigue – you know when to stop. The frequency depends on the child, but usually 1-2x per week is enough because you want them to have time to recover.
Q: Do you typically have parents involved in the aquatic therapy sessions with children?
A: Most of the time I involve parents and get them in the pool. Bonding helps them and any SPD symptoms the parent may have also. Especially for SPD patients who are avoiders, having the parent involved makes it easier for parents to bathe and dress them at home.
Q: Is there any need to regulate pool temp based on whether the child is a seeker or avoider?
A: Yes, definitely. Seekers will love the hot tub feel. For avoiders, you may have to decrease the temperature. I usually test them by sitting at the step and seeing how they respond. I will adjust water temp or water level, depending on a sensitivity or fear.
Q: Are there any assessment tools that you use to justify the need for aquatic therapy?
A: I do a regular occupational evaluation and the SPD standardized evaluation (from the SPD foundation). Also, when you do the regular evaluation, you know what their problems are. I usually start the child on the land and see their reaction. If the child is distracted or not progressing on land, that’s when I usually use the pool. Sometimes, I will use the pool as a reward, by introducing the pool in an early session and then move them to land and create goals with a reward of being in the pool.