Aquatic therapy center helps those with autism, open to all


Aquatic therapy can be quite expensive. So one local mom is fighting to make this type of therapy available to all families who need it.

Out of the pool, 13-year-old Joey is rigid. He hardly moves. His battle with Duchenne muscular dystrophy and severe autism restricts him to a wheelchair. But in the water, he's free.

The relaxing environment allows Joey to tune into his therapist. At the California Aquatic Therapy and Wellness Center in Long Beach, the water is 94 degrees.

"When we get into a bath of water, what do most of us do? We relax. And that's the same thing with most children with autism," said Pat Dixon, executive director of the center.

Joey's mom, Mieko Perez, keeps coming back because of the results. She says his teachers notice a big difference.

"The water provides a calming effect," said physical therapist Henry Helms.

At the center, kids with autism are sheltered from the constant bombardment of information. Therapists say the warm water helps kids focus and learn.

"These things can be carried over from one visit to the next, and they can improve their ability to focus in the outside world as they learn new skills in the water," said Helms.

There are many theories as to why these waters can help a child with autism. For Joey, the results were immediate. But when Mieko and her son were denied coverage for this therapy, she took action.

"We need to come support this facility and make sure it stays on the radar, because we need this facility," said Mieko. "And so that's what I pledge to do."

Sessions can cost up to $100 elsewhere. But this non-profit center does not turn families away who can't afford to pay.

It's a place that's made a big difference for Joey, and Mieko wants others to know it's here for them too.

"It's not only my son, but it's the parents who email me and contact me and say thank you," said Mieko. "That to me is, OK, I'm paying it forward, because that's what it's all about."

The California Aquatic Therapy and Wellness Center is open to everyone with disabilities.

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