Aquatic Therapy Benefits Families In And Out Of The Water

Ruby and Ailene

Many children across the country are sent to a swimming pool either as an after-school activity or something to do over the summer. But for children with a chronic illness, the benefits of aquatic therapy can result in long-lasting and meaningful progress in the symptoms associated with their condition.

Ailene Tisser is a physical therapist and co-founder of Swim Angelfish. The company offers four different programs including Angelfish Therapy, which uses the therapeutic properties of water to provide physical and occupational therapy treatments that are both enhanced and focused on multiple areas. For kids with a wide range of disabilities, Swim Whisperer Swim Lessons utilize specially trained swim instructors to teach these children how to swim. Angelfish Training teaches both therapists and aquatic professionals the specialized techniques of Swim Angelfish for getting children who need more support to swim successfully.

There are even Angelfish Camps that children can attend. These include Camp Move To Learn in Greenwich, CT, a specialized day camp for both highly energetic children and those who need more support in completing games or activities; and Camp Angelfish in Great Barrington, MA, a one-week overnight camp for children of all abilities looking for a sleepaway camp experience.

But while the thought of a child with a chronic illness or disability engaging in rigorous exercise may seem far-fetched, Tisser says that the properties of water allow for both physical and mental benefits.

“They’re learning independent movement while also being supported by having buoyancy, which helps them move through the water more easily. And as you go deeper through the water, you have increased hydrostatic pressure, which releases dopamine and helps improve your overall mood,” she explained. “Children who have long-term aquatic therapy not only find it more motivating and fun, but they don’t even realize they’re doing the hard work of therapy.”

Tisser typically sees children once or twice each week, but has also accommodated multiple sessions over a short period of time in order to help a child reach a specific goal. For some children, that goal might be simply learning how to become more social and interact with their peers.

“The environment of the water is a place where a child with a chronic illness or a disability can feel more typical because there are other children around,” said Tisser. “Because movement is so much easier, they can move at the same pace as their peers and feel more successful. We also work really hard to incorporate siblings and friends into the sessions when appropriate to help with that piece.

Numerous medical studies have proven that aquatic therapy can be used to reduce pain and other symptoms associated with a wide range of chronic illnesses and disabilities, including autism, Parkinson’s disease, depression and chronic pain. But Tisser doesn’t need research projects to verify this: she has witnessed the success stories firsthand from children undergoing aquatic therapy.

“I have children who have been in wheelchairs who stood by themselves for the first time or took steps for the first time in the water. And even if they were non-verbal, you could see the look of accomplishment in their eyes,” she recalled. “I also worked with a girl who had a chronic illness and was in constant pain. It was one of the most rewarding experiences to work with her because she felt pain-free in the water and felt like everyone else.”

The benefits of aquatic therapy extend beyond the children who receive this treatment, though. It can also provide a much needed morale boost for parents by showing them that their children can continue to make progress at any age.

“I recently had a 13-year-old boy who stood up by himself in the water for the first time. His parents were so overwhelmed and elated by it,” said Tisser. “It’s so beneficial for parents to see you don’t have to give up hope.”