Benefits of hydrotherapy for children with disabilities & special educational needs

At Innova, we have received increased requests to design and install hydrotherapy pools for SEN schools in the past few years. That’s not surprising given the growing body of research demonstrating the benefits of hydrotherapy on health and wellbeing.

SEN schools see a hydrotherapy pool as an investment in supporting their students with learning and physical disabilities, and with social and behavioural impairments.

However, securing funding for such a large project can be difficult.  In this guide, we cover some of the key benefits of hydrotherapy for children at SEN schools to help you make the case for investment.

How can hydrotherapy improve health?

Firstly, this is a guide to help you make the case for investment, so you will need to know the general benefits of a hydrotherapy pool, and why it’s important.

There are 9 key benefits, which are listed below:

  1. Detoxifying – the increased heat induces sweat, the body’s usual way of eliminating toxins, it flushes out impurities through the skin, and helps cleanse the child’s body.
  2. Loosens tight muscles – the weightlessness of the water relieves tension in the child’s limbs and supports any sore/aching muscles, easing the movement.
  3. Encourages relaxation – reduction in blood pressure, releasing endorphins, slowing the child’s reaction to anxiety.
  4. Increases metabolic rate – the water temperature increases the child’s metabolism encouraging a healthier/stable diet.
  5. Increases digestion activity – the water flow of the water during therapy washes away trapped waste and stimulates bowel nerves and muscles to encourage the regular bowel function.
  6. Hydrates cells – once the skin has detoxified, the steam hydrates the skin by increasing oil production, which also provides a calming sensation.
  7. Improves skin and muscle tone – moving whilst submerged underwater, means that more muscles are getting used at the same time than any other activity, meaning that without realising it, children are improving their skin and muscle tone.
  8. Boosts immune system – the increased circulation and blood flow around the body allows lymph to be moved around more efficiently, helping to fight common colds and illnesses.
  9. Improves the function of internal organs – the warmth of the water increases blood circulation, helping the internal organs function efficiently.

All these points are clearly important and demonstrate the positive outcomes that are possible with hydrotherapy.

But when it comes to securing funding, it can also be helpful to understand what about hydrotherapy pools produces these benefits.  So, here are some points on what makes hydrotherapy effective.

What makes hydrotherapy effective?

The 4 key features that make hydrotherapy an effective therapeutic method:

  • Buoyancy – When entering the water, the child’s body weight is carried by the water. This sensation is often referred to as feeling weightless. As the bodyweight is carried by the water, the child can strengthen their muscles without feeling like they are working too hard.  The support of the water also aids balance and reduces pain.
  • Water Resistance – The water creates resistance, ensuring muscle and movement resistance, building up the child’s strength level.
  • Hydrostatic Pressure – The pressure on the body helps free tight muscles and lessen swelling in the hands, arms, feet, ankles, and legs.
  • Water Temperature – Water temperature is really important for hydrotherapy.  The temperature is around The warm water eases the mind, relaxes muscles, and relieves anxiety and stress to give a real feeling of tranquillity.

Why are hydrotherapy pools needed in SEN schools?

Once you’ve explained the general benefits of hydrotherapy, you may also need to make a case for why your school needs a hydrotherapy pool.

So, let’s look at some more specific examples relating to SEN schools. You’ll see how these benefits can be especially helpful for children with disabilities and special educational needs.

Hydrotherapy for children with Cerebral Palsy

An estimated 30,000 children in the UK have a type of Cerebral Palsy (CP).

CP is a lifelong condition caused by a problem with the brain either before, during, or very soon after a baby is born. This can be a bleed or reduced oxygen in the brain, or it could be caused by infections during pregnancy.

Cerebral Palsy can cause symptoms such as stiffness or floppiness, weak arms or legs, jerky/clumsy movements, fidgeting, and uncontrolled random movement.

Using a hydrotherapy pool can have a positive impact on these symptoms and improve everyday functional skills for a child with CP:

  1. The increased warmth of the water encourages relaxation by having an effect on the individual neuro-muscular junctions. This relaxation results in decreased spasticity and muscle tone.
  2. A symptom of CP is stiff/painful joints, so the buoyancy of the water is used to assist the movement in the joints.
  3. For children with CP who use wheelchairs, sitting all day in their chair can be restricting. So, the freedom of movement in the pool is welcoming. Having this time for free play and movement can also improve concentration and behaviour in the classroom.
  4. The buoyancy alleviates fears of potential injury when trying new movements. This allows children to try things they wouldn’t attempt on land. Over time, this can really improve the range of movement for children with CP.

Another important point is that children don’t need to be able to swim to do hydrotherapy. Buoyancy aids can be used if needed. Plus, a member of staff will always be there supporting them for safety and reassurance.

Hydrotherapy for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

An estimated 11,5000 children in the UK have ASD. ASD is often referred to as Autism, and is a lifelong disability, affecting how people communicate and interact with others.

Autism affects people in different ways, meaning they all have their own strengths and weaknesses. Hydrotherapy can provide benefits for children with different challenges and goals.

The key benefits of hydrotherapy for children with ASD include:

  1. Working with other people. Spending time working with the therapist, and sometimes other children can improve social behaviours in children with Autism. Adding hydrotherapy sessions to a child’s routine creates a structured approach to forming bonds with others. It allows them to continue learning social skills, whilst in a relaxed environment and state.
  2. Impressive sensory benefits. Many children with ASD on the autistic spectrum also have sensory processing disorders. This often means they experience sensory overload and feel overstimulated by their environment. Hydrotherapy can help to calm and soothe children in three key ways:
  • Hydrostatic Pressure– water offers heavy/deep pressure which children with sensory impairments typically enjoy.  The water surrounds the child’s entire body, allowing them to concentrate, relax and have the confidence to move around and try new movements.This is very similar to the idea that a weighted blanket can help people with anxiety. Feeling pressure on the body is very soothing.
  • Vestibular Stimulation – The vestibular system controls balance. Hydrotherapy has shown to improve balance due to the pressure of the water on the body. This can be highly beneficial for children with ASD. Many children show repetitive behaviours, like rocking, which can be distracting in lessons and potentially dangerous. These behaviours are thought to be linked to an underdeveloped vestibular system.Being able to change positions in the water can stimulate the vestibular system, improving balance and sensory input over time. Outside the pool, this can help reduce repetitive behaviours and prevent issues like dizziness.
  • Proprioceptive Feedback – Often referred to as our sixth sense, proprioceptive feedback is how a person understands where they are in a certain space. This is another ability that can be underdeveloped in children with Autism. Not having this feedback can make movements clumsy or jerky. In the water, there is resistance when the child moves. This gives enhanced feedback about where their body is and boosts body awareness, whilst improving their tolerance to touch. Over time, this can help make their body movements more fluid and controlled.

General benefits for education and children’s health

Of course, SEN schools have pupils with a wide range of care needs.  Other conditions besides Cerebral Palsy and ASD must be considered when investing in equipment.

So, to round off this guide here is some an overview of more general benefits hydrotherapy can provide in SEN schools:

  • Hydrotherapy exercises can help children improve their:
    • Oral motor skills and respiratory control – By blowing bubbles, or blowing a lightweight object along the surface of the water.
    • Muscle strength – Activities using a water noodle can build muscle in the arms and core without it being obvious to the child.
  • Children with disabilities have been known to become more communicative and cooperative after just one hydrotherapy session.
  • The therapy can reduce overall anxiety and stress which improves concentration and confidence in all areas of schooling and everyday life.

Enquire about a hydrotherapy pool

We hope you now have a better understanding of the benefits hydrotherapy can have on physical, behavioural, and social function!

If you’re interested in incorporating a hydrotherapy pool into an SEN school read our blog on designing hydrotherapy pools for SEN schools or contact us to book a free consultation.

We can provide designs, a quote, and more specific benefits to help you with applying for funding.