The Benefits of Fishing as Therapy: Fish for Life Protocol

Kerrie Lloyd, CEO and Founder of Integrative Solution Services, LLC

There is a wealth of information out there about the benefits of the ocean for therapeutic impact for all of us.  For individuals with disabilities, the benefits of ocean therapy are even more compounded.  Considering a day on a boat in the ocean, it is a multisensory experience.  In other words, regardless of what sensory processing issue an individual may have, a day of fishing on a boat can provide much needed relief for a person with disabilities.

There’s something about a boat ride that seems to be important for people with special needs.  On a Fish for Life event on July 16, 2017, we knew these kids were having a great time and they gained great results as well.  After a day on the boat, Adam was relaxed and calm.  He is a sensory seeker and after the input he had received all day, he was able to relax and fall asleep for almost 10 hours.  The next day he was filled with self-esteem and confidence.  With a disability impacting social and communication skills, it was a breath of fresh air for Adam to be on a boat where he was included in the fun and he got to fit in with the crowd and do something he had only seen others do from a distance.

Like hippotherapy, which Adam enjoys, Fish for Life is multisensory.  In the popular press, therapeutic horseback riding has been lumped together with swimming with dolphins and other animal activities for people with disabilities.  I would add deep-water fishing to the list of protocols.  The sensory experience on the boat may be calming to people with autism, leading to positive behavior changes. Even though some of those interventions may have little or no research behind them, it is impossible to deny that there are therapeutic benefits.  The sense of sight, hearing, smell and touch are obvious sources of input on a boat.  However, the Fish for Life experience also provided opportunities for speech therapy and social skills development.

The children with special needs on the boat were encouraged to use the microphone to hear their own voice and share with others on the boat.  It really did not matter what was said, Fish for Life gave participants who are often not heard (or seen) a voice.  One participant actually noticed Adam uses ASL and he used sign language to communicate him.  Participants were cheered on and rewarded and this reward system gave them confidence to keep on fishing while experiencing gains from the day.  For example, there was a noticeable improvement, as time went on, in the number of words spoken by participants and the amount of social communication between them.

I noticed also that many participants had greater improvement in hyperactivity and irritability. To put that in perspective, it has been noted that effective treatment protocols have a similar effect on irritability as an antipsychotic medication.  In addition, standing on a boat strengthens the core and improves balance. There were children on the boat whose gait was a little unstable.  The boat provided physical therapy benefits while also stimulating the senses. Naturalistic protocols like this, in my opinion, are most effective for people with special needs but without side effects of prescription medicine.

Finally, the staff on the boat was responsive to body language. They responded to participants as needed and showed them how to perform all of the functions of a fisherman.  This mirroring was responsive to each participants body language and learning by mirroring can carry over into a persons communication off the boat. Regardless of what future research may say about a day on a boat, participants clearly enjoyed more than a boat ride at the Fish for Life event:  they experienced something fun to do with friends.

Meet Adam Lloyd!