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Sensory Enhanced Aquatics (formerly Sensory Supported Swimming)

Benefits of swimming and water safety among children with autism spectrum disorders.

KU Sensory Enhanced Aquatics graphicSwimming can be a great physical outlet and life-saving skill for children with autism spectrum disorders.

In addition to promoting health, swimming reduces stereotypic behaviors and increases social behaviors of some children facing these challenges.

Lisa Mische Lawson, Ph.D., a KU Department of Occupational Therapy Education alumna and current faculty member, serves as director of KU Sensory Enhanced Aquatics. The swimming and water safety program for children with autism spectrum disorders focuses on the effects of water-based physical activity on health outcomes of children with autism.

Working in partnership with Autism Speaks, participants in the program learn a life-saving skill that also provides the benefits of better health and increased social interaction with a reduction in stereotypic behaviors.

Instructors in the program combine evidence-based teaching methods with sensory strategies matched to the unique needs of each child. Each session consists of eight, 30-minute lessons. Individual and small group lessons are available to meet the learning needs of children ages 4 to 17.

When does registration open for this program?

  • Summer session registration opens in mid-May.
  • Fall session registration opens in mid-August.
  • Spring session registration opens in early December.

For information about program costs, location, scheduling and more, please send a message to or call Kayla at 913-588-7119 (TTY 711).

Above: Through a grant, the KU Department of Occupational Therapy Education has developed a program that teaches children with autism how to swim. Watch video

Student Learning

Graduate students training with Mische Lawson obtain clinical and research experiences with physical activity measurement, program development and evaluation, one-on-one client services, and quantitative and qualitative research methods. They also acquire significant presentation and writing experience for professional and general audiences.

Interested in becoming a swim instructor? Please contact the program at

Our Team

Swim Instructors

    • Louis Brunetti
    • Emily Ferrell
    • Kaytlyn Gooderl
    • Alexandra Gradisher
    • Nicholas Guess
    • Samantha Kopp
    • Hayden Leenerts
    • Sydney Mulholland
    • Stephanie Munson
    • Mia Murphy
    • McKenna Oathout
    • Lesan Peters
    • Harper Riner
    • Chaz Trujillo
    • Emily Wolf

Lisa Mische Lawson, Ph.D., CTRS, is director of the Sensory Enhanced Aquatics program and is a certified therapeutic recreation specialist. She has more than 20 years of experience in developing and managing recreation programs for individuals with disabilities.

Mische Lawson is active in the swim community as a US Master's swimmer with the Missouri Valley Masters. She is certified by US Master's Swimming Adult Learn to Swim and the Aquatic Therapy Rehab Institute.

Lauren Foster, OTD, OTR/L, clinical assistant professor, developed Sensory Enhanced Aquatics with Mische Lawson. She swam competitively from grade school through college and has coached all levels of swimmers.

Kayla Hamner, MOT, OTR/L, is the Sensory Enhanced Aquatics program manager. She started as a swim instructor during her occupational therapy education at KU Medical Center, stayed involved with the program as both an instructor and student director throughout her education, and also worked as a graduate research assistant under Mische Lawson.

Interested in becoming a swim instructor? Please contact the program at

Training Resources


Mische Lawson, L. D'Adamo, J., Campbell, K., Hermreck, B., Holz, S., Moxley, J., Nance, K., Nolla, M., & Travis, A. (2019). A qualitative investigation of swimming experiences of children with autism spectrum disorders and their families. Clinical Medicine Insights: Pediatrics, 13, 1-9.

Mische Lawson, L. & Lisk, C. (2019). Feasibility Study of Perceived Exertion and Heart Rate of Children with ASD during Swimming. American Journal of Recreational Therapy, 18, (2), 29-37.

Mische Lawson, L. (2014, June). Supporting Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders in Swimming and Recreation. American Therapeutic Recreation Association Webinar Series H: Autism I.

Mische Lawson, L., Foster, L., Strode, M., & Weller, C. (2014). Effects of a swim program for children with autism spectrum disorder on skills, interest, and participation in swimming. American Journal of Recreational Therapy, (3)2, 17-27.

Foster, L., Cox, J., & Mische-Lawson, L.; Englert Shutrump, S.; and Lutman, A. (2014), Staying in sight: Addressing children’s mental health and safety. OT Practice, 19(6), 8–13.

Mische Lawson, L., Cox, J., & Foster, L. (2013). Swimming as a physical activity for children with autism spectrum disorders. Exceptional parent, 43(3).

Franken, L., Mische Lawson, L., & Santalucia, S. (2013, April). Aquatics: Promoting quality of life, health and wellness. OT Practice. 16-21.

"Recreational therapy is considered a “discovery career” as most people have never heard of it. Being passionate about my own recreational pursuits, particularly swimming, and having early contact with individuals with disabilities helped me discover recreational therapy. With my therapeutic science Ph.D., I was able to build a clinical practice, research and teaching around a recreational activity that I love."
KU School of Health Professions

Occupational Therapy Education
KU Medical Center
3901 Rainbow Blvd  MS2003
Kansas City, KS 66160
913-588-7195 • 711 TTY