Autism and Therapeutic Aquariums

Aquariums can be both soothing and educational for children on the autism spectrum. Designing, setting up and maintaining them can serve as a functional activity. Children with ASD can share aquarium activities with siblings, friends and parents to work on taking turns, sharing and teamwork.

Therapeutic aquariums can serve as a reinforcer in a behaviorally oriented program. They can help keep a child calmer which may help prevent or reduce melt-downs. Parents and therapists can create a variety of lesson plans around the central theme of an aquarium and aquatic life (learning about fish species, colors, etc.).

During table work in behaviorally oriented sessions for example, a child that is prone to becoming anxious and overly stimulated emotionally may be put on a schedule that varies between intensive table work and visits to the aquarium to see the fish and aquatic plants.

At the Le Chemin ABA VB Learning Center in Paris, France, the therapeutic aquarium is a huge reinforcer. The children love visiting the aquarium which is housed on the lowest level of the three story learning house.

Children who are prone to emotional outbursts benefit from the soothing nature of the therapeutic aquarium which is a specially designed aquatic haven for tropical fish. They are calmed by the movement and colors of the fish. The children who have the required developmental level, help with aquarium maintenance and are proud to share what they have accomplished with siblings and parents when they come to pick them up after their therapy sessions. Each child has particular tasks to complete that range from aquarium maintenance to feeding the fish to counting the fish. Most children at the learning center also have a favorite type of fish.

At Le Chemin, some lessons plans are designed around the therapeutic aquarium. Children learn about the fish, to count the fish and plants in the aquarium and to label the colors on each fish. For the children who have the appropriate developmental skills, there is an aquarium themed story time that takes place in front of the aquarium. The children are guided in writing their own short stories about fish following the story time.

At home, you can guide your child to participate in all activities aquarium related from designing and installing an aquarium to selecting compatible fish. Guide your child to participate in cleaning and maintaining their home aquarium.

For children further along in their development and with the necessary pre-requisite skills, these will be valuable activities. You can combine these activities with the appropriate visual contracts and schedules to make it clear what you are expecting from the child. Participating in these activities may increase your child’s sense of responsibility, help them learn to follow directions and aide in the development of their own self-help skills.

Sharing this activities with others may increase positive sibling relationships. Taking turns, working as team, reinforcing a joint activity. Creating and maintaining a therapeutic aquarium is hard work but fun and valuable for your child on the autism spectrum for so many reasons.


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About Alix Strickland

Alix Strickland, BCaBA is an applied behavior specialist and founder and director of the Le Chemin ABA VB Learning Center for children with autism and other special needs in Paris, France. She is known as the « Green Behavior Specialist » because she uses natural cleansers and organic foods at her center in addition to making a lot of her own DIY, upcycled therapy materials. She coaches families and professionals in using ABA and Verbal Behavior strategies in France and abroad. Her website is