Cerebral palsy results in the progressive loss of motor functions, with a negative impact on daily activities and participation. Despite the well described benefits of aquatic therapy in children, little is known about the effects of the same in school settings. This study aimed to describe the experience of children and youth with cerebral palsy participating in an aquatic therapy program within a special education school considering their educational and therapeutic perspectives. A qualitative descriptive case study with embedded units was developed, comprising 27 participants. This study employed purposeful sampling to include children and youth with cerebral palsy from the Asociación Ayuda a la Paralisis Cerebral (APACE) special education school, together with their parents, the special education teachers, and health care professionals. Data were collected via non-participant observation, semi-structured and informal interviews, focus groups, and researcher field notes. A thematic analysis was conducted, revealing the following themes: (a) the connection with the environment; (b) postural improvements and mobility; (c) the opportunity to perform tasks; (d) learning and transfer. A motivating environment leads to physical, cognitive and social benefits, both at school and in the home. Aquatic therapy was viewed as a means for learning and participation. These findings may enhance understanding regarding the potential benefits of implementing multidisciplinary aquatic therapy programs in specialist school settings.
Keywords: cerebral palsy; physical therapy modalities; qualitative research; special education.