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Swim Lab International
A girl in a pink swim cap floating on pool noodles next to her pediatric therapist in an outdoor pool

How we deliver pediatric Physical and Occupational therapy, and support speech development

Here at Swim Lab International, we provide a unique combination of Pediatric physical therapy and occupational therapy in an aquatic setting, unseen anywhere else in the world. Our aquatic therapy sessions are also ideal to help your child develop some of the key oral motor skills needed for speech.

We use our aquatic therapy sessions to help your child develop skills more quickly than they would using land-based therapy alone. We then transfer those skills onto dry land, allowing us to make massive progress in a relatively short space of time.

We build each of these therapy types into our sessions, depending on your child’s specific needs and goals.

For Occupational Therapy, we use the therapeutic properties of the water to help develop motor skills, improve posture control, muscle tone, strength, neurosensory processing and overall body awareness. We can also extend this with some children to work on dressing at the end of each session for example.

For the Physical Therapy element, the buoyancy of the water gives your child more freedom to move and take part in activities or movements that they just wouldn’t be able to do on land. We can use these activities to improve coordination, gait, range of motion, strength, posture, balance, and range of mobility.

The pool is also the perfect setting to support your child in developing the motor skills and muscles needed for speech. Controlled and coordinated breathing in the water helps increase lung capacity for speech. We also naturally work on oral motor skills like blowing, lip rounding and lip closure, all of which help your child develop their articulation and language.

Curious to know more, let’s dig a little deeper.

Pediatric physical therapy session with two children floating in a beautiful outdoor pool

What Is Aquatic Pediatric Occupational Therapy?

We all have an occupation. Your child’s occupation is to play, in order to grow, learn and develop new skills.

Occupational Therapy is designed to help children with physical, cognitive or sensory challenges complete everyday tasks like playing with toys or other children, dressing, eating, cleaning teeth, focusing on learning or writing, to name a few.

Aquatic Occupational Therapy is a great alternative to land-based therapy because the pool is a natural play-based environment. Even if your child’s nervous to begin with, we’re experts at helping them relax and get comfortable in the water, so he or she will find it just as fun and exciting as any other child as the week goes on.

Our children love coming back to their therapy weeks, which means they’re eager and motivated for each session, working hard on their therapy goals without feeling like it’s work.

A small boy holding a long pool weight at the side of the pool while his therapist explains the game they will play

How do we apply Occupational Therapy in the pool?

We hide the therapy behind fun activities which will help your child develop the strength or skills needed to complete these tasks.

For example, we might work on fine motor skills by grasping a pool weight, dropping it to the shallow floor and going underwater to collect it. This grasping activity will help your child with daily tasks like gripping a toothbrush, or developing their handwriting skills.

We use games and fun activities to work on:

  • Tolerance to water for bathing and grooming
  • Strength
  • Body coordination and hand-eye coordination
  • Body awareness
  • Executive functioning (plan, organize, and complete a task with multiple steps)
  • Problem-solvingSensory processing and integration
  • Fine and gross motor skill development
  • Motor planning
  • Safety awareness and impulse control
  • Attention and sequencing
  • Emotional and self-regulation, including managing frustration and anger
  • Memory
  • And more

Swimming itself also uses every muscle in the body, meaning it’s a great way for us to work on your child’s overall strength, which in turn will help them take part in other activities and daily tasks.

A small boy in a blue swim cap doing front crawl in a beautiful outdoor pool

Sensory focus

As well as the buoyancy and natural resistance in the pool, the water provides massive sensory input to the whole body, because your child’s submersed within it. Similar to a sensory gym, this can be really beneficial if he or she has difficulty with motor planning or sensory processing.

If your child has Autism, aquatic therapy has been proven to be a great way to improve attention, tactile (touch) tolerance, initiating and maintaining eye contact and muscle strength. We find out what soothes your child before our sessions begin, such as counting, and apply it during our sessions to help them feel relaxed. So with counting, we might count toys, strokes or lengths to help them feel at ease and get the most out of each session.

A boy swimming on his back holding a pool float with his therapist swimming backwards behind him.

What Is Aquatic Pediatric Physical Therapy?

Physical Therapy is designed to identify difficulties with movement, aiming to help your child manage their physical symptoms including pain and increase his or her mobility, gross motor skills, strength and endurance.

On land, gravity and body weight affect the way your child moves and put pressure on their joints and soft tissue.

The water both helps your child move with the support of the natural buoyancy, and gives them resistance to movement, allowing us to build on their agility, strength, body awareness, muscle tone and balance.

Aquatic Pediatric Physical Therapy has the added benefit of hydrostatic pressure in the warm water, which helps to decrease pain and muscle spasms. That in turn allows your child to relax and move more freely, enjoying an increased range of movement.

This relaxation also allows us to achieve a greater amount of stretch in your child’s muscles, helping them gain more flexibility overall and feel good in themselves.

A teenage boy swimming on his front with pool noodles, his therapist at his side correcting his posture

How we incorporate Pediatric Physical Therapy in the pool

We use fun activities in the pool to develop skills and strength so your child can roll over independently, sit and hold themselves up straight, run, jump and so much more.

Many of our children learn to stand and take their first independent steps in the pool without a frame, aided by the water, giving them the confidence to try it again on dry land.

Over time, we can build on their strength and coordination, potentially removing the need for a frame altogether.

We also see a big improvement in:

  • Overall fitness
  • Stamina
  • Exercise tolerance
  • Endurance
  • Improved gross and motor skills
  • Improved sensory feedback which aids gross motor function
  • Developing independence through independent movement
  • Greater control of the body

Parents have told us time and again that their children develop more confidence in themselves and in interacting and playing with other children as a result of the games and activities we use in the pool, and the skills they develop.

Looking down on a small girl taking a few independent steps towards her therapist in a shallow pool

How does Aquatic Therapy support speech?

When we can’t communicate, we feel isolated and frustrated. Intervention helps children with various communication issues from comprehension to sound production, clarity of sound, voice control and fluency (stuttering).

Over time, improving your child’s communication will help them express their feelings and thoughts, make it easier for them to interact and play with other children and increase their self-confidence and independence.

Aquatic Therapy has so many benefits for your child. The warm water helps them relax, which in turn makes it easier for him or her to create sound.

We can gradually develop the muscles used to create speech, as well as enhance your child’s breathing pattern and lung capacity naturally, through the use of breath control and fun activities like blowing bubbles as we teach them to swim.

As their breath control and coordination improve, your child will produce more volume and sustained sound or speech.

The resistance of the water and being submerged can also be very calming for children, a bit like when you take a long warm bath to relax at the end of a busy week. Being submersed in water gives your child constant sensory feedback, which will help them relax and focus if they’re normally very active or seek sensory input.

A small girl standing in shallow water holding a pool float, talking with her therapist

How do we aid speech and language development in our pool sessions?

If your child’s non-verbal, we can easily start communicating with gestures, movement and facial expressions as we build on their comprehension and speech production. This keeps pool time fun, so they look forward to our sessions and stay engaged as we progress a little more each time.

The warm pool water can help to reduce your child’s tactile defensiveness or touch sensitivity. This in turn can help him or her focus their attention on the activities we’re doing, like imitating sounds or words which can take a lot of concentration.

As we teach them to swim and move through the water, or take part in fun activities, your child will naturally develop language and cognitive skills through listening to our instruction and going through similar sequences each session, like counting before we jump or slide into the pool.

Your child will experience so many sounds and a lot of auditory feedback when they’re in the pool. For example, the sound of water hitting the sides of the pool, underwater sounds from their own movement and other swimmers, splashing sounds and so on. For children seeking auditory feedback, this can be really motivating. For example, we might make sounds in the water as we blow out, which reverberate underwater in a fun way, encouraging them to produce more sound, which strengthens the muscles of the mouth and aids oral motor control.

Doing fun activities in the shallower parts of the pool allows your child to benefit from the hydrostatic pressure of the water at chest level. This provides a natural resistance to help strengthen the diaphragm, which in turn helps control breathing for sound production and speech.

Your child will also benefit from more support to the head, neck and upper body in the water, which gives a better position for the jaw and tongue as we practice sounds, making articulation a little easier.


Putting it all together

When you join our intensive therapy weeks, we create a program of activities to help reach your child’s current goals. This will naturally include elements of Occupational, Physical or Speech-Language Therapy, and will vary as your child’s needs develop.

If you would like us to focus on one or more therapies in particular, we’re always happy to support you in any way we can.

Ready to find out more? Take a look at how we run our intensive therapy weeks.

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