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Wednesday 06|17|2009 at 10:32:52 AM · Newsletter

PT in the Spotlight: Beth Ennis, PT, EdD, PCS, ATP Clinical Non-Clinical
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Can aquatic physical therapy help young children with autism? That's the focus of research
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led by Beth Ennis, assistant professor of physical therapy at Bellarmine University in
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Louisville, KY. In this month's feature, Ennis discusses the promising results of a recent pilot
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Since she first began practicing physical therapy more than 15 years ago, Ennis has
Patient Management
frequently incorporated aquatic therapy in the treatment of her pediatric patients. In addition Management Newsletter
to teaching at Bellarmine University, Ennis is also in private practice with her husband as a Pediatrics Private Practice
clinical specialist in pediatric physical therapy. "When I first started practicing, we didn't see Pharmacology Reimbursement
children with autism as much," she notes. "Now you can't avoid treating kids in the Technology Research Issues
spectrum." Wound Care

Autism spectrum disorders are developmental disabilities defined by significant social

interaction and communication impairments, as well as unusual behaviors and interests.
Because treatments for autism have focused primarily on the social and verbal aspects of the
condition, physical therapy wasn't considered a necessary part of treating children with Get more information, news, and PT info by
autism. Delayed motor skills and low core muscle tone, however, are often associated with subscribing to our quarterly newsletter.
the disorder. OR

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Aquatic Therapy Program Focuses on Both Motor and Group Skills
up link at the top next to the search box. A
Last year, Ennis had a group of doctoral students who were interested in both aquatics and newsletter subscription is included with your
autism, prompting an 8-week pilot study of the effects of an aquatic therapy program on membership.
young children with autism spectrum disorders. The study included two groups of three
children. In one group, the children were 3 or 4 years old; in the other, they were 5 to 7.
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Concentrating on both motor and group skills, the core content of the aquatic therapy
sessions was divided into the following:
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1. Getting used to the water.
2. Having the children put their faces in the water and blow bubbles.
3. Working on core strength exercises, such as jumping off the PT students' legs in the
water, pushing off the wall, and crawling along the wall.
4. Interacting with the other children, such as tossing balls.
5. Allowing free time to play at the end each session.
Taking an Inside Look at Knee
The children in the study represented a wide variation on the functioning scale - for example, Posted on 10|04|2010 (0 comments)
some children were verbal; others were nonverbal. So Ennis tailored the program to meet
each child's needs. One boy wanted to be underwater the whole time because the pressure of Diving In to Help Improve Patient
Outcomes with Aquatic Therapy
the water felt good to him, so the challenge was to try to keep him above the water for some
Posted on 10|04|2010 (0 comments)
of the activities. But his sister was the opposite, "pitching fits and deathly afraid to go
underwater." Lending a Helping Hand to Needy
Children in Ecuador
Positive Qualitative Study Results Observed Posted on 07|06|2010 (0 comments)

http://www.davisptnetwork.com/posts/839-testing-the-effects-of-aquatic-therapy-on-children-with-autism[10/14/2010 4:50:09 PM]

Testing the Effects of Aquatic Therapy on Children with Autism | DavisPTnetwork

Although this pilot study showed no statistically significant improvement on such standardized
Using Standardized Assessments
tests as the Childhood Autism Rating Scale and the Pediatric Evaluation Disability Inventory, for Spinal Cord Injury
Ennis explains, there were positive qualitative improvements. "And I put a lot of value in the Posted on 07|06|2010 (0 comments)
qualitative component of research," she says. For example, she reports observing:
Making Medical Outreach Her
Better eye contact - Eye contact increased between some of the children and the Mission
PT students who were working with them one-on-one in the pool. Posted on 03|31|2010 (0 comments)
Increased verbal responses - Some of the children also became more verbal as
the program progressed and they increasingly responded to the students' questions.
Improved motor skills - The mother of one boy who exhibited delayed motor skills view more posts comments »

reported that he'd become much more active at home, climbing and jumping off
furniture by the end of the program - something he hadn't done prior to the aquatic
therapy. In addition, the girl who was afraid to go underwater when the program
started was swimming through an underwater obstacle course at the end of the

With these encouraging results, Ennis is expanding the research to include a 10-week aquatic
therapy program in both the spring and the fall, with a goal of involving as many as 36
children with autism spectrum disorders. Thanks to an article about the study in a local
paper, community members have donated the use of warm water pools for the aquatic
therapy - the most costly part of conducting this type of research.

A Stepping Stone to Community Engagement

What does Ennis see as a major positive outcome of aquatic therapy for children with autism
spectrum disorders? "It could be a possible stepping stone to increasing community
engagement," she explains. "If, as a result of aquatic therapy, these children start going to
the pool with their families, for example, that would be great."

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