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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.


Sensory Enhanced Aquatics is a swimming and water safety program for children with autism spectrum disorders. Lisa Mische Lawson, Ph.D., a certified recreational therapist and current KU faculty member, serves as director of KU Sensory Enhanced Aquatics. Kayla Hamner, MOT, OTR/L, a licensed occupational therapist, manages the program including training and developing instructors. Both are KU Department of Occupational Therapy Education alumnae.

USA Swimming Foundation logoUSA Swimming grant recipient logoWorking in partnership with USA Swimming, participants in the program learn a life-saving skill and physical activity that supports long term health.

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 KUsea@kumc.edu 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

Students working with Sensory Enhanced Aquatics learn about sensory processing and evidence-based teaching methods for providing swim instruction for individuals with autism spectrum disorder. Students refine their skills with hands-on learning opportunities supervised by experienced health professions students and health professionals. Graduate students can also gain academic skills and experience working in Mische Lawson’s Accessible Leisure Lab.

Interested in becoming a swim instructor? Please contact the program at KUsea@kumc.edu.


Our Team

Swim Instructors

    • Louis Brunetti
    • Kaytlyn Gooderl
    • Alexandra Gradisher
    • Nicholas Guess
    • Samantha Kopp
    • Hayden Leenerts
    • Danica Leonard
    • Sydney Mulholland
    • Stephanie Munson
    • Mia Murphy
    • McKenna Oathout
    • Lesan Peters
    • Harper Riner
    • 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.

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 KUsea@kumc.edu.


Training Resources

With support from the World Leisure Organization, we created these training videos to help parents, caregivers and professionals teach swimming to children with autism spectrum disorder.

Please use these videos as a resource to gain insight into how we connect knowledge of swimming and autism spectrum disorder through our program, strategies and techniques we utilize in our lessons, and how we harness children’s strengths to support skill development.


Grants

USA Swimming Youth Scholarship Grant
Major goal is to provide scholarships for children with autism spectrum disorder to receive Sensory Enhanced Aquatics swim lessons.

USA Swimming Foundation Adult Learn to Swim
Major goal is to expand Sensory Enhanced Aquatics to provide swimming lessons for adults with autism spectrum disorder.

World Leisure Organization
Major goal is to develop Sensory Enhanced Aquatics instructor training materials for international dissemination.


Publications

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. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1179556519872214

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