Floating and Autism

For this discussion of introducing floating successfully to a person with autism, we’re welcoming guest blogger Amanda Maginley, owner of Nepsis Floatation in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada.

Hi there. I’m a mom of two autistic teenagers and started floating them about 5 years ago. I opened my own float Center this year. I’m also trained in behaviour and have worked in our school system as a TA and observer of behaviour.

Floating has improved our lives significantly. It has helped me be a better parent, reducing my stress and helping me function better, and helped my kids with increasing awareness and emotional regulation.

Autistic people need to know what the plan is and how the scenario will play out. Also important to outline what the expectations should be, and it’s very important to include them in deciding what those expectations are. You should never unilaterally decide for them. This is their float and they will only be able to handle so much at a time, even if that seems hardly anything to you.

I started by talking with my kids about floatation in general. Like, why it was good for them and what it does. This was done through general conversation and with the use of social stories. (These are picture short stories that talk about the rules and how to do it. Also what to do if the water starts to sting areas, etc.). Also videos! This is called pre-teaching. I always do this before every float in the beginning.

Then I take the kids and show them what it is. This is where I let them touch everything and become familiar with the setting. Before the second visit, we go through the rules again and I get them to choose what they want to listen to. (We use music therapy anyway, so using music in this scenario was natural for them).

First float: I stay in the room with my kids at all times. The lights are usually on and the float door open. The first float may be as short as 15 minutes, but if you’ve gotten that far, you’ve succeeded tremendously. Baby steps is the key and letting it naturally unfold is beneficial for everyone.

Second float: Again, stay in the room. Float door open, lights on, then slowly dim lights a little bit. Also try to hit the 15 minute mark. I found by second float, they could go longer.

Third float: stay in room, start with half dim lights, door open, and encourage them to close the door 1/2 way. You always aim to have the float go longer than the time before and to do an additional step.

As you can see, you ease them into it in increments. You also do not do anything until they tell you they feel comfortable with it. If they are uncomfortable, you go back to the spot where it was ok for them. In this way you support them but also give them some autonomy with the process.

Every visit goes like this, increase time and decrease a stimulation (lights, door, sound, and eventually your own presence). It took my son 6 months to get to floating on his own, and my daughter took about a year and a half. She still needs support from time to time.

They both ask for a float when they need it now. My son can float for two hours in complete darkness and silence and he says it helps him immediately. He can detect the difference in himself and is good for longer times in between. In the same year he started, his school called me in for a meeting asking me what was happening to him. (Did I put him on drugs?) They said he was getting on task faster and staying on task longer. He seemed happier. He was calmer. His marks went up. They had no idea I was floating him. (They do now, obviously!)

My daughter is more affected by Autism and has anxiety. Most people with Autism have co-occurring conditions that affect them more than the Autism itself. Her helpers and teachers say they can always tell when she’s had a float. Everything is just easier.

The most important thing is to set up a routine that is predictable, but at the same time push for little changes to help them achieve the ultimate goal.

Always reinforce everything that went well, and redirect things that don’t go well with reaffirming statements. “This is a learning process. I’m so happy with what you managed today.” “It’s ok you got upset. Whenever you feel like that, we can take a break and try again when you feel up to it.” “I love that you told me what you wanted.”

The language, tone and direction you use are very important. Giving them the option to choose is very important. Slowly introducing them to the environment is very important. Keeping the same routine… important. Leading with love, the most important.

This is a quick overview of what I did with my own kids. If you want to talk more on specifics, please don’t hesitate to ask.

To reiterate the old cliche, when you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism. They are individuals with different needs. [Float centers should] ask them and the parent what works best for them and try to tailor the experience so it works for them.

Hope this helps!
Cheers and good floating! – Amanda Maginley, Nepsis Floatation

About Sara

Sara is a co-founder of Float, and has been a licensed massage therapist since 2003. The problems of two people may not amount to a hill of beans in this world, but this is our hill, and these are our beans.