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Sensory Enhanced Aquatics (formerly Sensory Supported Swimming)

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

Lisa Mische Lawson, a KU Department of Occupational Therapy Education alumni 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.


  • Summer session registration opens in mid-May
  • Fall session registration opens in late July
  • Spring session registration opens in early December

For information about program costs, location, scheduling and more, contact

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

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. She is active in the swim community as a US Master's swimmer with KC Blazers 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 and continues to support the program remotely from Florida. Foster swam competitively from grade school through college and has coached all levels of swimmers.

Mady Priebe, OTR/L, and Kelsey Sponsel, OTR/L, are Sensory Enhanced Aquatics managers. Both started as swim instructors during their occupational therapy education and now train and provide on-deck support to Sensory Enhanced Aquatics instructors.

Kayla Hamner and Natalie Kivlin are graduate research assistants, working with our program. Jaime Skultety is our experiential learning and administrative coordinator.


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. Available for purchase at

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