Boy with Severe Motor Disorder Stands for the First Time after Aggressive Swimming Therapy

A Florida doctor developed a swimming program for kids with cerebral palsy and special needs. Children who have problems walking or who spend most of their time in a wheelchair are able to swim, stretch their muscles in the warm water, or even save themselves from drowning. Dr. Harvey Barnett says that children with special needs are at an especially high risk of drowning and they are often turned away from swimming programs. However, Barnett’s swimming therapy program has began to turn the tide.

One little boy coached by Barnett experienced what his doctors called a miracle. Chance Kern has a motor disorder and spina bifida, which has left his legs partially paralyzed. After working in the water with Barnett, Chance was able to glide through the water by kicking his legs, a feat which Chance’s doctors had thought was impossible. Chance could also turn himself over to float, so he can save himself from drowning.

Barnett says that creating the program and getting certified to work with kids with special needs wasn’t easy. It took him years to try and figure out how to best help these children, but he emphasized that  we cannot afford water accidents. Barnett believes that every child can learn to swim – even children with cerebral palsy who are paralyzed from the waist down. Barnett’s swimming program has brought renewed confidence to so many children with special needs. Chance’s mother said that seeing what he can accomplish in the water is helping Chance become stronger outside of the water. Chance began standing on his own and his doctors said this feat is due to the strength Chance developed from swimming.

 Benefits of Swimming for Children with Cerebral Palsy

Part of a child’s normal development is continually moving their arms and legs and exercising as they learn to roll, crawl, move through sitting positions, and walk. This type of spontaneous exercise is often limited in children with cerebral palsy. These children may be capable of only a few movements and are relatively inactive compared with other children.

Exercise is very important for children who have cerebral palsy. Lack of exercise and stretching, muscle imbalances, and favoring certain muscle groups over others can cause children to develop painful bone, joint, tendon, and muscle problems. Contractures are a serious problem that children with spastic cerebral palsy often experience. A contracture is permanent shortening of a muscle or tendon, resulting in loss of normal joint movement.  Contractures produce deformities and can be very painful.

Exercise strengthens muscles, increases flexibility, improves respiratory function and it enhances a child’s gross motor function.  Exercise is also fun, and research shows that it is additionally beneficial for a child’s emotional well-being.

Swimming is especially beneficial for children with cerebral palsy.  Being in the water encourages kids to move their limbs and experience the effects of movement on their body.  Warm water helps stiff muscles relax, and children move a lot more easily in water due to the buoyancy. The buoyancy of water reduces the effects of gravity, poor balance and poor postural control. Water reduces the level of impact on a child’s joints, providing a gentler environment for children with unstable joints to do exercise and weight-bear. Water exercise also encourages more equal use of all muscle groups. In the water, children with cerebral palsy have less limited movement.

Water is an excellent opportunity for children to experience a wide variety of sensory feedback. Kids feel the warm water, the sounds and sights of splashing, and the movement of their limbs. Movement of limbs that are not normally active is especially important.

For children with cerebral palsy, perceptual and visuomotor skills improve because water slows down movement and gives the child time to react and appreciate how to use their muscles.

Hydrotherapy pools are generally 33 – 34 degrees Celsius, just a few degrees below body temperature, which is 37 degrees. Warm water has a relaxing effect and can help decrease muscle tone. For children with spastic cerebral palsy, 35 degrees is the best pool temperature. Hydrotherapists assess each child and develop tailor made programs. Pool temperature, type of exercise, assistive devices and how to get the child in the pool are all important issues related to hydrotherapy.

Hydrotherapy programs are designed to accomplish the following:

  • Increase gross motor coordination
  • Maintain or increase range of movement and flexibility
  • Increase muscle strength
  • Improve balance and posture
  • Improve fitness and endurance
  • Promote breathing control
  • Promote water safety and awareness

While hydrotherapy offers many benefits, there are additional treatments and therapies for cerebral palsy. Often, children with cerebral palsy can benefit from more than one type of therapy, depending on their individual condition.

About ABC Law Centers

ABC Law Centers was established to focus exclusively on birth injury cases. A “birth injury” is any type of harm to a baby that occurs just before, during, or after birth. While some children with birth injuries make a complete recovery, others develop disabilities such as cerebral palsy, hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, epilepsy and others.

It is considered medical malpractice if a birth injury or a related disability could have been prevented with proper care. Your child could have their lifelong treatment, care, and other crucial resources covered by a birth injury case settlement. 

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Sources

  1. Special Needs Kids Buck Odds and Learn to Swim
  2. Aquatic Therapy for Children with Cerebral Palsy

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