One answer may be adaptive scuba diving. This unique activity provides children and adults with disabilities, the opportunity to experience the incredible sensation of weightlessness and the feeling of freedom that comes with being underwater. It also has therapeutic benefits, such as improving their physical and mental health, boosting their confidence, and increasing their social connections.
What is Adaptive Scuba Diving?
Adaptive scuba diving is a program that provides scuba diving experiences to people with disabilities. The program adapts the diving experience to an individual diver’s needs, making it accessible to people who experience a wide range of disabilities, including physical, cognitive, and sensory impairments. Adaptive scuba diving programs typically include specialized: training, equipment, and support from professionals trained in adaptive scuba.
The Therapeutic Benefits of Adaptive Scuba Diving
Improves Physical Health: Scuba diving is an excellent form of exercise that can improve cardiovascular health, increase muscle strength and flexibility, and improve respiratory function. Adaptive scuba diving can provide additional benefits for people with disabilities, by improving their range of motion, increasing circulation, and improving overall physical fitness. This exercise can be beneficial for those with chronic pain, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries, and multiple sclerosis.
Boosts Mental Health: Scuba diving can also positively impact mental health by reducing stress and anxiety, improving mood, and promoting relaxation. For people with disabilities, adaptive scuba diving can provide a sense of freedom, independence, and control, that may be difficult to achieve on land. Similar to doing meditation, scuba diving requires focusing on your breath, emptying your mind of distractions, and being present at the moment. The sensation of weightlessness, the ability to move freely in the water, and an atmosphere of sensory deprivation can be therapeutic for people with conditions such as autism, PTSD, and anxiety disorders. The sensation of weightlessness, the ability to move freely in the water, and the benefits of escaping from the typical surface triggers that might irritate or set off someone with autism, PTSD and anxiety disorders.
Sensory deprivation rooms, weighted blankets and pressure vests are a type of therapy often used to help sooth those with autism.
Increases Confidence: Adaptive scuba diving can also help boost confidence by providing a sense of accomplishment and achievement. Learning to scuba dive requires focus, determination, and perseverance. Completing a dive can be a significant confidence booster for people with disabilities. This experience can be beneficial for children with disabilities, who struggle with low self-esteem and confidence. They’ve done something only a small percentage of the population has done. According to the Diving Equipment & Marketing Association (DEMA), there were approximately 6.4 million scuba divers in the United States in 2019 (Dema, 2021). The total U.S. population at that time was estimated at around 328 million (U.S. Census Bureau, 2019). This translates to approximately 1.9% of the population. This confidence boost can spill over into other areas of their life. Adaptive scuba diving often helps children with disabilities identify as something other than their disability. It’s no longer Johnny in a wheelchair, it’s Johnny the scuba diver.
Provides Social Connections: Adaptive scuba diving can also provide opportunities for social connections and new friendships. Children with disabilities are often less likely to participate in community youth activities because of physical or cognitive limitations. Scuba diving is a team activity, and divers must work together to ensure everyone’s safety and success. This activity can create a sense of camaraderie and support among divers. Spending time with a diverse group of people and feeling included can be especially meaningful for children with disabilities, who may feel isolated or disconnected from others.
Increases Sense of Adventure: Finally, adaptive scuba diving can provide a sense of adventure and excitement that may be difficult to find in other activities. Just floating in zero gravity can be exhilarating. In a pool, there are underwater games and activities for adaptive divers. Open-water diving offers a world full of fascinating creatures and landscapes. For children with disabilities, adaptive scuba diving can provide a sense of wonder and curiosity that will have them thinking about what they can do instead of what they cannot do.
How to Get Involved in Adaptive Scuba Diving
There are several options if you want your child to participate in adaptive scuba diving. Many scuba diving organizations offer adaptive scuba diving programs. There are also specialized organizations that focus specifically on providing scuba diving experiences for people with disabilities.
Before getting started, do your research. Make sure you consult a physician.
Many programs require a medical form signed by a doctor. It’s important to find a program that fits the participant’s needs and interests. Some programs may have age or disability restrictions, and others may require certain levels of scuba diving experience or certifications. Additionally, ensure that the program has qualified instructors and follows safety protocols to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for your loved one.
Once you’ve found a program that meets your needs, prepare for the experience. This preparation will include what to expect during training and the actual dive, and addressing any concerns or fears your loved one may have. Encourage the participant to embrace this new opportunity, while being supportive and understanding.
During the adaptive scuba diving program, the diver will receive specialized training and equipment tailored to their needs. This may include trying on adaptive scuba gear, such as: specialized masks, fins, and weight systems, and receiving instruction on using the gear safely and effectively. The training should include basic diving skills: such as buoyancy control, underwater communication, and emergency procedures.
Once your family member has completed the training, they will have the opportunity to participate in a dive. The diving usually takes place in a pool. During the dive, a trained professional will provide assistance and support. These adaptive scuba dive buddies are trained specifically in adaptive scuba diving, as well as knowing about various disabilities, so they can ensure the safety of adaptive divers. The goal of the dive is to give the diver the opportunity to experience the sensation of weightlessness and the feeling of freedom that comes with diving underwater while keeping them safe.
Adaptive scuba diving can provide a wide range of therapeutic benefits for children and adults with disabilities, including improved physical and mental health, increased confidence, and opportunities for social connections and adventure. If you want your family member involved in adaptive scuba diving, do research and find a program that fits the needs and interests. With the right program and support, adaptive scuba diving can be an incredibly rewarding and life-changing experience for your loved one.
Diving Equipment & Marketing Association (DEMA). (2021). 2021 DEMA Market Overview. Retrieved from https://www.dema.org/page/market_overview
U.S. Census Bureau. (2019). Annual Estimates of the Resident Population: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2019. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-kits/2019/pop-estimates-national-state.html
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jim Elliott is the founder and president of the Diveheart Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing adaptive scuba diving experiences to children, adults, and veterans with disabilities. Jim’s passion for scuba diving and helping others led him to create Diveheart in 2001. Since then, the organization has helped thousands of individuals with disabilities experience the freedom and adventure of scuba diving.
Read the article here.