Autism spectrum disorder, which describes a range of conditions including autism and Asperger syndrome, causes a delay in the development of a person’s social, language and thinking skills. Around 1 in 100 New Zealanders have autism and the challenges they face vary greatly depending on the severity of their condition. But could help be found in the relaxing waters of a spa pool?
Between the warmth of the water, the action of the jets, the buoyancy, the sounds and the smells, the sensory experience of soaking in a spa pool is a distinctly relaxing one. This calming effect can be particularly valuable for those with autism, who often find themselves experiencing sensory overload.
Add in the fact that hydrotherapy as a whole has also been shown to improve social interactions and behaviours in children with autism, and a spa pool could form a more complete therapy solution than you might initially realise.
Is a hot tub good for autism?
Are spa pools proven to help with autism? Let’s look at the cold hard facts.
First it’s important to note that autism is a lifelong disorder. There’s no ‘cure’, and many would argue that there doesn’t need to be; that those with ASD are simply different to the cognitive norm, and often in incredible ways. All that said, it can be hard for people with ASD to move through a world not built for them, particularly in acute cases. The focus is therefore on helping those with ASD to get by in an often confusing and overwhelming environment.
Hydrotherapy is one such management technique. It has proven quite effective in producing a calming and healing effect on the minds and moods of those with autism, particularly children. In this study children with ASD showed significant improvements in levels of anxiety and depression, and in thought and attention problems after four weeks of hydrotherapy. Another study showed that hydrotherapy led to improvements in the social interactions/behaviours of children diagnosed with ASD.
The scientific proof is backed up by anecdotal evidence too, like this Hot Spring customer’s recent experience:
“Just a note of thanks and to let you know that Marshall LOVES the spa pool! It is such a great size for him to move around in and he loves the jets and the lights – all amazing sensory tools and experiences for him.” - the Ward Family.
Hydrotherapy therefore appears to be beneficial to people with ASD – and spa pools offer hydrotherapy. It stands to reason that a spa pool is a wise and therapeutic investment for anyone with ASD in their family.
How does hydrotherapy help autism?
While the results of the studies above are encouraging, how exactly does soaking in a pool of water help people with ASD?
One of the defining traits of autism spectrum disorder is the tendency for sensory overload. Many people with autism have described how they lack the ability to filter their senses – that they often face a barrage of sights, sounds, smells and touches which can be difficult to separate and process.
The buoyancy, warmth and gentle action of the water in a spa pool forms a perfectly calming environment for someone with ASD; a place where they can avoid sensory overload and enjoy themselves.
The truth is that we still don’t have a great understanding of the inner workings of the autistic brain, not least because everyone with ASD is different. This means that we can’t say exactly how hydrotherapy helps those with autism. But the evidence that it does help is mounting every day.
What does hydrotherapy for autism look like?
If you’ve chosen to make an investment in a spa pool, your next question might be how you should use it. What does the healing hydrotherapy mentioned in the studies above actually look like?
One of the most popular forms of hydrotherapy used for people with ASD is based on the Halliwick Concept. Created in 1949, Halliwick describes an approach that aims to teach people with physical and/or learning difficulties how to move in water. The concept includes a wide variety of physical, personal, recreational, social and therapeutic strategies, and can be undertaken anywhere from the open water, to a hydrotherapy machine/swim spa, to a spa pool.
Many Hot Spring owners, however, don’t take a structured approach to hydrotherapy at all. Between the warmth of the water, the gentle pressure of the jets, the glimmer of the lights and (in certain models) the music of the sound system and the beauty of the water features, the built-in features of a Hot Spring spa pool might offer therapy enough!
As a condition that is unique to the individual, it can be difficult to judge the exact effect that a Hot Spring spa pool will have on a person with ASD. Which is why we at Hot Spring offer the opportunity for a test soak. Book your soak in, pop on your togs, head to your local store and check out the benefits for yourself!