Water is not just water. Water is therapy!
Properties of water, including its wet texture and denseness, can benefit children who have difficulty with sensory processing. These properties allow the brain and body to arouse, plan and safely coordinate movements much differently than on land. Our sensory system includes: sight, sound, smell, touch, body position and body movement. These senses help us develop a basic understanding of the world around us. Without the senses we would not be able to engage in everyday occupations to their full extent.
So how is water “therapy”? Let’s take a look!
Before we jump into the water, our body must prepare itself to jump into the water. Our bodies prepare for jumping by coordinating the muscles and joints together for the actual jump. Also, to safely jump, the eyes help the body visually coordinate where to start and where to land. Scanning the pool environment for toys or even using body movements to create letters and shapes in the water. The water is a great way to encourage visual skill development, body awareness, and overall safety awareness of the environment.
So, let’s look around. Are you ready?! Let’s JUMP!
Once we have taken this great leap of faith into the pool water, a cool and heavy splash is felt. This sensation ignites the muscles to awaken and work together! The dense property of water can do wonderful things to the body. It challenges the muscles and joints to work collectively against a resistive force. When the body is being forced to work, it is aroused and the brain can reach a higher level of concentration. Also, as the body works continuously over time, it can help the mind and body reach a state of relaxation. Jumping, crashing, kicking, pushing a kickboard, and pulling a towel in the water are great activities to manipulate and work against the dense property of water. Such activities can be calming for a child who seeks heavy input or even arousing for a child who needs more input to respond.
Revert back to when you FIRST jumped into the water now. What did you feel? Was the water cold? Hot? Maybe even prickly? The feeling of water engages the sense of touch in various ways. It allows us to determine when, where, and what is touching us. It also measures temperature, vibration, and pressure. Integrating light touch activities such as splashing, pouring from a can, or lightly brushing water onto the skin with a small towel can help a child learn to tolerate various textures and water droplets striking the body. If your child is not tolerating light touch activities with water, make the experience fun and begin with small baby steps working towards increased tolerance.
As you can see, water is not just water. It is therapy! The properties of water can create a sensory enriched environment which allows for young minds and bodies to integrate and learn. The dense property of water can arouse and also help calm. It provides resistance which ignites the muscles and preps the body for movement and exploration. Also, integrating the touch of water can help increase tolerance to other textures with other every day objects such as a t-shirt. Therefore, when used in conjunction with land based therapies, occupational therapy aquatics can be used as an additional tool that is fun-filled and therapeutic. This can be empowering to your child and increase their independence and overall function.
So, are you ready? Let’s take another leap into a sensory enriched world! READY, SET, GO!
Do you think your child might be a good fit for pool therapies? Ask your Pediatric Occupational Therapist at PTC for further information.
Sara Welniak, MOT, OTR/L