EXPERTS helping autistic children in Bahrain should integrate aquatic therapy in their daily routines, it was urged.
Bahrain has more than 10 institutes for special needs children but none of them use aquatic therapy to help autistic people.
The method was highlighted during a film festival in Bahrain that screened Swim Team, a documentary based on swimming coach Michael McQuay and his wife Maria who established special Olympics swimming team Jersey Hammerheads eight years ago, inspired by their son Michael.
Mr McQuay from New Jersey, US was in Bahrain to discuss the documentary, his team and how he encouraged a group of autistic children become independent individuals and to compete on the world stage through the use of aquatic therapy.
According to studies conducted worldwide aquatic therapy – which refers to treatments and exercises performed in water for relaxation, fitness and physical rehabilitation – benefits children with autism in stress relieving.
It also enhances the child’s quality of life and improving productivity, besides social and sensory skills.
Representatives from Alia for Early Intervention and RIA Institute, who attended the screening of the documentary at the Building Bridges film festival, said they were inspired by the spirit of the documentary.
“As I watched the movie I was reminded of the facts on aquatic therapy which can help children with autism,” said Alia for Early Intervention psychiatrist Dr Tawfiq Narouz, who is also a Fellow of American Psychiatric Association.
“Water is appealing and medically it can alleviate anxiety and increase attention span.
“There is a big possibility for Bahrain to explore in this direction, either as government or as in centres like Alia.
“Teaching autistic children to swim can go hand in hand with the other trainings that we give them and the results will be good.
“The movie being based on real life incidents is inspiring as we see that some children went to college and got married – it is definitely worth giving it a try in Bahrain.”
His comments were supported by RIA Institute founder Christine Gordon, who described the movie as a “celebration of life”.
“Swimming is a unique sensory experience, enabling many different skills in one is good,” she explained.
“My son is not a swimmer but knows how to stay afloat and loves being in the water.
“The film itself to me is a celebration of life – yes we struggle, yes life is tough, but it’s also good and very rewarding.”
Mr McQuay, in an exclusive interview with the GDN, expressed his willingness to support Bahrain in establishing a swim team for autistic children.
“My wife and I started eight years ago and today we have 17 athletes who are all in various swimming teams and competing with normal children,” he said.
“It was not easy and we took it one day at a time.
“If we can do it, Bahrain can do it as well. I am ready to help the country with this as I would love to see one such team being set up here.
“It is about finding the right person with passion who believes in the cause and these children and that’s where you can take off from.
“All children are gifted and these children are trying to talk to us and all we need to do is open our ears and listen.”
One of the stars of the Jersey Hammerheads is Mr McQuay’s 21-year-old son Michael, who is among the three principal subjects of Swim Team, the documentary by award winning television news and documentary producer Lara Stolman.
Swim Team is Ms Stolman’s first feature documentary film for which she fetched the New York Women in Film and Television Loreen Arbus Disability Awareness grant.
“They told me that my son will never walk, talk or change his own pants, and now he is doing his dream job of working for four days at a zoo and he swims six days a week,” added Mr McQuay.
“This movie gives parents hope – I am not here to preach what to do with your children, but it helped me and my wife, it can help others too.
“I am being an ambassador, going out to the world and telling parents not to entertain their children with an iPad and not to be overprotective, but to help them grow up to take care of themselves and lead an independent life.
“We touched a lot of people’s lives through this documentary and we hope to do the same in Bahrain.
“Autism has no race, class, colour or creed – it can affect the rich or the poor alike and this movie is emotional and an eye-opener to parents.”
Twelve films, including award-winning documentaries and movies on the refugee crisis, were screened during the second edition of the festival.