Raising a kid with autism can be tough. Not only do you have to deal with all of the typical headaches of parenthood, like changing diapers and waking up to the sound of crying in the middle of the night, but you also have to deal with all of the extra difficulties that accompany autism. Luckily, research suggests that aquariums can help to soothe and educate children suffering from autism.
This news isn’t particularly revolutionary. After all, it’s already a well-known fact that aquariums have a calming effect on people, so it’s reasonable that aquariums would have a similar impact on autistic children. Autistic children sometimes experience meltdowns, which is a much more severe version of a temper tantrum. During a meltdown, a child will completely lose any self-control, so much so that there’s a risk of the child seriously injuring himself. Aquariums can help calm down autistic children long before they ever reach meltdown-level anxiety.
In all fairness, fish aren’t the only creatures that can soothe autistic children — dogs, cats, and pets in general provide companionship and a calming influence for autistic children. Fish have a couple of advantages over its furry competitors. Unlike cats and dogs, which might flee at the first sign of an autistic temper tantrum or even strike back at an out of control child, fish are completely placid. There’s nothing that fish can do to harm a child and (as long as the aquarium is well-secured) there’s not much an angry child can do to damage an aquarium.
The other advantage of owning a home aquarium is that bright colors and moving shapes can stimulate a child’s development. Think of an aquarium as a living, organic children’s toy that captivates viewers.
One aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut has taken this concept to a whole new level with the Synergy Socials Program and Social Species from the Sea to Me. Brian Armstrong, president of Synergy Center Corporation, explained, “Mystic Aquarium provides a fun, naturally relaxing, non-school environment, where students are exposed to a variety of social settings. This environment, along with collaborative aquarium activities, helps participants learn skills and strategies for coping in their daily lives while having fun and socializing.”
Basically, the aquarium program combines fun social activities with a mellow aquarium environment to promote learning, sociability, and relaxation among children with disabilities. The touch tanks also give children an opportunity to take a hands-on approach to learning. Parents and workers report incredible success, arguing that aquarium therapy mellows out autistic children in a way that can’t be achieved in other environments. Any parent of an autistic child will tell you that improving social skills is key. Purchasing an aquarium is a small price to pay if it can help an autistic child say his very first words.
It’s important not to underestimate the potential healing properties of an aquarium. An aquarium obviously won’t cure autism overnight, but it can have a dramatic impact on a child’s behavioral patterns, learning capabilities, and the overall happiness of both the child and his parents. If you do decide to install an aquarium for your child, I highly recommend inviting him to participate in the design process.