Splishing and splashing in a water therapy pool can do more than help kids who need to work on moving their bodies. At Akron Children’s Hospital, a unique program that pairs speech therapy with physical and occupational therapy in the water is proving to be a success.
Aquatic therapists have been treating clients in the water for nearly 3 decades at Akron Children’s. The field was pioneered by physical therapists and then joined by occupational therapists. They saw how the aquatic environment naturally brings out communication and decided to join forces with speech therapists.
Addyson Staup, nearly 3, is among the patients who have participated in the SPOT (speech, physical and occupational therapy) Aquatics Program, an adaptive aquatics therapy program at the hospital. Her mother, Jessica, said she’s seen great strides in Addyson since she began taking part in an 8-week session.
“I have noticed she has started getting better with 3- to 4-syllable words and she puts multiple words together to say a sentence,” said Jessica, who lives in Wadsworth with husband, Paul. “Her speech is also easier to understand now.”
Addyson was born full-term. Jessica said her pregnancy was normal but when Addyson was born she had low muscle tone and a “floppiness” about her. She also wasn’t swallowing and couldn’t be fed orally. She spent 6 weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
“We went the first 15 months of her life with a lot of ups and downs; a lot of hospital stays,” Jessica said. “She’s been in therapy since the day she was born.”
A diagnosis of congenital myasthenic syndrome (CMS) came when Addyson was 15 months old, after months of seeing experts in neurology, pulmonology, genetics and plastics at Akron Children’s. Within a month, doctors started her on a medication, and things have been looking up ever since, Jessica said.
“She has made rapid progress in every category,” Jessica said. “Looking at her now, you wouldn’t think anything is wrong.”
Addyson still experiences weakness and can get easily fatigued. She’s continuing to receive physical and occupational therapy, as well as speech therapy with Delaney Poetter, who works with physical therapy assistant Bea Kovacova in the SPOT program. Kovacova and Poetter – who don swimsuits and get right in the water with their patients – said they believe Akron Children’s is the only place in the region that offers a consistent opportunity for this multidisciplinary approach to therapy.
“Parents are thrilled,” Poetter said. “Kids are more vocal in the water.”
She added that aquatic therapy can be helpful for a variety of reasons for children needing speech therapy.
“They relax, which allows them to vocalize,” she said. “They’re not thinking about how hard their bodies are working.” This helps improve focus on strengthening, coordination, motor planning while making the whole session playful and fun.
Addyson was a great candidate for the program because she still struggles with her facial muscles, which was making it difficult to understand her, Jessica said. The program was recommended by Addyson’s longtime physical therapist, Jane Caprez, who thought she could benefit from the unique approach.
“She loves it,” Jessica said.
The adaptive aquatics program is offered to children who have multiple health challenges that are being addressed with physical, occupational and speech therapy, Poetter said. It launched late in 2018 with a small group of patients who participate in 6 to 8 of the 45-minute sessions.
Sessions take place in the hospital’s therapy pool, which is warmed to a pleasant 94 degrees fahrenheit. Children do not have to be swimmers to participate. They are with Poetter and Kovacova in the water at all times. Their parents can learn strategies that can be used at home and improve skills for swimming lessons and sports.
Kovacova said children may take part in additional sessions as long as they are not consecutive, so that more children can get a chance to take part. She added that the therapy can be covered by insurance.
Learn more about aquatic therapy in this video with Children’s Channel video with Kovacova.