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The purpose of this study was to produce a descriptive overview of the types of water-based interventions for people with neurological disability, autism, and intellectual disability and to determine how outcomes have been evaluated. Literature was searched through MEDLINE, EMBASE, Ovid Emcare, SPORTDiscus, Google Scholar, and Google. One hundred fifty-three papers met the inclusion criteria, 115 hydrotherapy, 62 swimming, 18 SCUBA (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus), and 18 other water-based interventions. Common conditions included cerebral palsy, spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s disease, and intellectual disability. Fifty-four papers explored physical outcomes, 36 psychosocial outcomes, and 24 both physical and psychosocial outcomes, with 180 different outcome measures reported. Overall, there is a lack of high-quality evidence for all intervention types. This review provides a broad picture of water-based interventions and associated research. Future research, guided by this scoping review, will allow a greater understanding of the potential benefits for people with neurological disability, autism, and intellectual disability.
The authors are with Allied Health and Human Performance, University of South Australia, Adelaide, SA, Australia. Naumann, Parfitt, Gower, and Davison are also with the Alliance for Research in Exercise, Nutrition and Activity (ARENA) at the university.