A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Winter, 2018 | Number 1, Volume 32

Aquatic program shows multiple benefits

A multifaceted aquatic program designed specifically for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) may have benefits that extend beyond improving swimming skills, according to a new study from Italy. 

Giovanni Caputo and colleagues tested the effects of a program called Multisystem Aquatic Therapy, or CI-MAT, on 13 children with ASD, enrolling an additional 13 children with ASD to serve as controls. Both groups continued to receive their regular therapy, while children in the study group also underwent 96 45-minute sessions of CI-MAT therapy over the course of 10 months. 

The CI-MAT therapy involved three stages: 

—Emotional adaptation, in which the children were encouraged to cling to instructors after entering the pool. Once this was achieved, the children were encouraged to explore the pool using their instructors as a “safe base.” 

—Swimming adaptation, in which participants learned basic swimming skills. 

—Social integration, in which the children participated in traditional group swimming activities and games. 

The researchers evaluated the children before and after therapy using the Childhood Autism Rating Scale, the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, and an assessment measuring swimming ability. They report that following treatment, the therapy group showed significant improvements relative to controls in functional adaptation, emotional response, adaptation to change, and activity level. In addition, their swimming skills improved. 

The researchers conclude, “Multisystem aquatic therapy is useful for ameliorating functional impairments of children with ASD, going well beyond swimming training.”


Editor’s note: This and other types of aquatic therapy may also help reduce the very high rate of drowning deaths among children with ASD.


“Effectiveness of a multisystem aquatic therapy for children with autism spectrum disorders,” Giovanni Caputo, Giovanni Ippolito, Marina Mazzotta, Luigi Sentenza, Mara Rosaria Muzio, Sara Salzano, and Massimiliano Conson, Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, January 8, 2018 (online). Address: Massimiliano Conson, Neuropsychology Laboratory, Department of Psychology, University of Capania “Luigi Vanvitelli”, Viale Ellittico 31, 81100 Caserta, Italy, [email protected].