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OT Students Develop Pediatric Aquatic Therapy Program

Effort seeks to improve sensory processing and socialization for children

AquaticsCleveland State University is partnering with the Seven Hills Recreation Center to develop and implement a pediatric aquatic therapy program. The effort seeks to improve sensory processing and socialization, while also enhancing opportunities for play and recreation for children with special needs. 

Five master of occupational therapy students, Ali Solet, Alyssa Lane, Olivia Gaus, Katie Meyers, and Ashley Hegidus, worked with CSU Professor Kristen Pataki to develop the program, which was implemented in spring 2019 with seven children. The team created assessment tools that could be utilized to measure participant progress and assess the effectiveness of various activities in improving socialization and sensory processing. Activities included increasing water tolerance, exposure to multi-sensory inputs and game playing designed to increase comfort and swimming skills in the water.

“There has been very little research conducted on the use of water as a therapeutic tool for children with sensory processing issues,” notes Pataki, an assistant clinical professor of health sciences at CSU. “This project is allowing us to gain valuable data on the effectiveness of this type of activity, while also providing an amazing Engaged Learning experience for our students.”

The team developed a series of goals for each child in the program, focused on sensory processing, engagement/participation, and behavior. Eighty percent of these goals were achieved and seventy-one percent were exceeded by the end of the first three months. Pataki is now working with a new group of occupational therapy students to offer a second aquatic therapy group, to further data collection and enhance outcomes. The ultimate goal will be to disseminate the results so other OT practitioners can build on her research. 

Pataki also hopes to turn the program with Seven Hills into a regular service learning offering for CSU students, which will create a regular therapy offering for children who need it and further CSU’s goal of providing community-based, experiential learning for its students.

“This effort is really a win-win for all. The children benefit from the play-based aquatic program, while the students learn important clinical skills. I am delighted to continue our efforts with Seven Hills for the benefit of children with special needs, our students and the greater Cleveland community,” Pataki adds.