Children with autism face a ton of obstacles and challenges throughout their day to day lives. Parents, researchers, and medical professionals work tirelessly to try and find new ways of helping children with autism with sensory disabilities. There are a host of new therapies and techniques that have been and are continuing to develop for helping children with autism. One particularly interesting development is aquatic therapy, which is now being used with some success for children with autism.
Aquatic therapy for autism
The Turn Center, a research center dedicated to conducting studies on autism therapies, has found some hopeful findings regarding the use of aquatic therapies with children who have autism.
Researchers believe that the pool is a great place for children with autism, and gives them more self-confidence, an overall better mood, and possibly even better sensory and motor functions. Researchers say that the key is that the pool unlocks a host of possibilities in children with autism. The water allows them to move their bodies in ways that they may have not been able to before.
Another common problem with children who have autism is that they feel out of control of their own body and sometimes struggle with a feeling that they don't know where they or their bodies are in time and space. The pool allows them to really feel sensations in their joints and muscles, and gives them a sense of where they are. This calms them and makes them feel more in control.
The researchers at the Turn Center will present their findings to 11,000 physical therapists in the coming months, with the hope that aquatic therapy will find more widespread use. This new therapy could be incredibly helpful for children with autism.
While aquatic therapy is not currently a common therapy for autism, there are a number of programs and techniques that are currently being used to help children with autism cope with sensory and motor disabilities.
Applied Behavioral Analysis
This is the most widely accepted and common form of therapy for children with autism. Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) is most effective when done before children turn 5, but it can benefit any children struggling with autism. ABA takes a look at some of the common problems that children with autism face and provides solutions that teach them social, motor, and verbal behaviors, and reasoning skills. In this type of therapy, behaviorists will observe and interact with your child and reinforce correct behaviors through positive encouragement. This type of therapy can be very beneficial for children with autism. It helps teach them how to control their body, emotions, and behavior, which will give them a greater sense of independence and control. ABA therapists also ask the parents to get involved by having them help reinforce the positive behaviors the child exhibits at home. It can take a lot of practice and knowledge to pull off, but it can really help a child in the long run.
The problem with ABA therapy is that it takes a long time to teach children with autism all the skills and behaviors they need to really feel in control. ABA usually involves one-on-one sessions with a therapist for anywhere between 20-40 hours per week. As with most therapists, these professionals can be quite expensive, especially for such a long period of time every week. However, some therapists have sliding scales where they will reduce their rates for parents who don't have the ability to pay the regular rate.
Relationship Development Intervention
Relationship Development Intervention is a relatively new therapy style that helps children with autism. Once again, this therapy is more beneficial for younger children, but it can help children of all ages. RDI training focuses on teaching children how to think flexibly and build strong relationships with other people. Typically, the therapy first focuses on the relationship between the child and their parents. The parents have to be involved in looking out for "teachable moments" that can improve the child's social skills and interactions.
The verdict is still out on how effective RDI actually is, as there are not many studies out there showing its effectiveness. However, many professionals have stated that the social skills training helps the kids develop friendships and other relationships, which helps prevent a feeling of being isolated and an outcast.
Just like with ABA, parents typically have to take their kids to one on one sessions and also go through workshops and videos to teach them how to properly apply RDI principles to teach their kids. The sessions and workshops can be time consuming and ultimately fairly expensive. In most cases, RDI consultants require parents to video tape interactions with their child and meet with the parents regularly to check in on the progress of both the parent's teaching and the child.
Sensory Integration and related therapies
Other therapies have been developed for autism relating to sensory overload and other sensory disabilities. This type of therapy involves a professional working with the child one-on-one to help regulate the child's reaction to external stimuli. Some children with autism become very sensitive to light, sound, or touch, while others are less sensitive than the average child.
The type of treatment often depends on the child's senses. For example, if a child is sensitive to touch, a therapist might gently rub the child's skin with different types of fabrics. This gets the child used to different sensations and helps them wear different types of fabric comfortably.
Most therapists tend to try and make the sensory regulation techniques into games and fun activities for the child. Introduction to new sensations can be very overwhelming for the child, so making it fun can keep them calm and receptive to the new sensations. The child is not forced to do anything directly, but the therapist tries to help the child push him or herself to accept new sensations.
There is no set therapy for sensory integration. In hyperactive children, spinning around in a chair can calm them down. Whereas for children that are not active enough, the therapist may work with them to find activities that boost their energy levels. Other types of these therapies include swing therapy, vibration therapy, or aerobic exercise.
Like RDI, sensory integration has few studies confirming its effectiveness. Since it is such a personalized form of therapy, it is hard to conduct specific research on types of sensory integration. The personalization also means that the therapist may have to experiment a lot with different treatments for a child with autism, which means progress may be slow to present itself. The one on one sessions can be expensive, but certain therapists offer sliding scales as was discussed in the ABA section.
Therapies for children with autism are in high demand, and researchers are working tirelessly on improving current treatments and creating new ones to help children with autism live more comfortable, enjoyable live. Researchers hope that the introduction of aquatic therapy will serve as a catalyst for other alternative treatments to start being used. For more information on autism treatments, developments, tips and tricks, and research, be sure to check out the rest of our website.