I have always been intrigued by how the human body moves in the water. At University studying Sports Science, I thought I was destined to be the next best Sports Scientist at the Australian Institute of Sport, making our Olympic swimmers even faster. Little did I know that an elective at Uni would take me to a whole different place, including overseas, working with children with special needs. Still working with the body in water……. just with different challenges thrown in. The elective had me working with a hydrotherapist who specialised in working with children with disabilities.
Throughout all my years of studying, reading and various training courses/workshops and working with children with special needs in the water and providing aquatic therapy sessions, I could see that the children were benefiting. What I was doing was having an impact on the child both in the water and on land, even with their limitations or challenging behaviours. The techniques I was using, and the properties of the water, seemed to reduce their anxieties and helped them focus. They became much stronger, not only their core strength but also fine and gross motor skills which allowed them more independence in daily living activities.
I went looking for evidence that aquatic therapy works. A lot of research papers were from overseas and generally targeting one specific disability, for example, Autism or cerebral palsy. I wanted proof that what I was doing in the water with children with special needs, worked. And that it worked across a variety of disabilities. And it was Australian research.
It was during COVID 2019 when my pool was forced to close, that I turned my attention to this desire of mine. I had always thought that I would approach Universities to see if they would collaborate with me on my research idea. I sat one day and wrote a list of the Universities within a certain radius from me. Put them in order showing who was closest. I started at the top, expecting to have to make many phone calls and hearing “no” a few times before I received a “yes”.
On the top of my list was Southern Cross University, Coolangatta. In my head I thought I’d only get one chance at each phone call, so I better have my elevator speech ready. It didn’t matter as when I spoke to the receptionist in the admin department for the whole University, she was just lovely, engaging and genuinely interested in what I was trying to achieve. She put me through to another department and they also listened intently, however felt they would not be the best faculty. They then put me through to Kachina Allen, PhD, Lecturer, Psychology, School of Health and Human Sciences.
She seemed to have all the time in the world and listened intently. She immediately stated that she could help. At the time Kachina felt this project would be great for a PhD student however the timing for the present students wasn’t a good match. That may come.
And so, the research project was born. We have been 12 months now on the background work for an observational research project. This will be a series of focused questions to the parents observing what benefits they have seen for their children from the aquatic therapy sessions, both in the water and on land. Eventually, we hope to have this published and then apply for a grant, which will enable us to do a much larger research project in the future in this specialised field.
Watch this space.