AMARILLO, TX (KFDA) - Riot is a 4-year-old making waves at the Turn Center's new therapy pool - both physically and developmentally.
"He's a completely different kid," said Audrey Craig, Riot's mother.
In the year the therapy pool has been open, Craig has seen major changes in Riot's development.
"He had a vocabulary of about 10 words just a year ago," said Craig. "Since he has started the swim [occupational therapy], he can speak sentences, he can sing."
The energetic Riot has autism. His therapist says aquatic therapy in the pool has really helped.
"Riot is what we would call a seeker for sensory input, so part of the reason he's always on the go is or grabbing things or touching things is he needs a lot of input to help his little body regulate in the world," said Haley Ogburn, an occupational therapist with the Turn Center. "The properties of the water provide him with constant pressure which kind of helps with some of that regulation. He's able to complete tasks better because he's able to focus longer."
The pool, which debuted in March 2017, is made possible by donations since the non-profit needed $522,000 to build it and still needs few thousand dollars a year to maintain it.
"There was no pool in the whole Texas Panhandle area, and we thought that would be a really good tool for not just a few kids but a lot of kids," said Treva McKinney, Director of Physical Therapy at the Turn Center. "So that was our biggest drive was to serve our kids better."
While the pool was primarily built to help children with physical disabilities like cerebral palsy and spina bifida, the Turn Center has also started trying aquatic therapy for children with autism.
"We have a large population of children with the autism diagnosis, and we've looked around a lot at research to see what best practice standards are, and we kept coming back to the pool," said McKinney. "We were hearing these little stories like, 'My kid really loves the water and when they're in the water, they can do x, y and z that they weren't doing before."
However, when looking into these practice standards, therapists say there was little research into the correlation between autism and aquatic therapy.
"There really wasn't much research. In fact, there were only four studies ever published on this subject," said Bruce Moseley, Executive Director of the Turn Center.
Taking matters into their own hands, the Turn Center is testing the waters and starting clinical trial research into the benefits of aquatic therapy for children with autism, which they say, is one-of-a-kind.
"We really jumped right in and have gotten our feet wet," said Moseley.
According to the National Institute of Health's website, this is the only clinical trial listed, looking into aquatic therapy and its effects on children with autism.
"There's currently one clinical trial in the country, and that's happening here at the Turn Center in Amarillo," said Moseley.
Moseley says this research, with many studies expected to begin this summer, could be published all over.
"Our first clinical research trial will probably end up publishing three studies in leading scientific journals," said Moseley. "We have universities all over the country interested in partnering with us to do further research because we have so many children that we treat here."
That research right here in the Panhandle could make a 'world' of difference for kids like Riot around the globe, one splash at a time.