Preparing your child for a new experience in their life can be a difficult process, even more so if your child has a special need. Children with Autism are prone to being very curious of their surroundings and wandering off, which can make bodies of water, whether a lake or pool, a hazard. Teaching your child with Autism how to swim can help them avoid accidents and drowning, and it can also be an enjoyable and therapeutic experience for them.
With the help of Rachel Chadwick, a professional swim instructor with years of experience teaching children with special needs, we’ll give you some tips on how to prepare your Autistic child for their first swim lesson:
1. Autism & Swimming: Make Them Feel Comfortable
To ease your child into their new activity, have them watch videos of people swimming, visiting a swimming pool and answering any questions they have about it. Utilising visual aids is important for a child with Autism. Videos, and having a dialogue with your child gives them an idea of what they’ll be doing during a lesson.
Rachel says, “Visiting a pool and meeting with an instructor, or having an instructor come to your home pool, will help in establishing their comfort level with this new environment. Take your child through the facility and introduce them to their instructor.”
Eventually, they will become more comfortable with the idea of swimming with the assistance of visual aids and personal interactions.
2. Autism & Swimming: Watch A Swim Lesson With Your Child
The next step to introducing swimming is to your child to have them personally watch a live swim lesson. Witnessing how swim lessons are conducted in reality will give your child a better understanding of how much fun swimming will be for them!
It also gives them the opportunity to ask more questions and better visualise what they will soon be doing.
3. Autism & Swimming: Visit The Pool & Ask About Their Policies
Now that they’re familiar with this new activity, have a meeting with the facility supervisor and ask them about their policies when providing service for a family that has a child with Autism.
If considering swim lessons at a community pool, here are some questions that are best to ask when meeting with a Facility Supervisor:
- What time of day would be the least noisy in order for my child to have a comfortable lesson?
- What aids can be used to help my child learn? (Ex. Flutter boards, noodles, fins, etc.)
- Since my child has autism and requires extra care, is there an instructor who would be a good match for my child ? (Ex. an instructor who has experience working with children with autism or who is studying childcare)
- Ask for a tour of the pool facility and areas around it. If your child tends to wander, and if there is a lot of open space in the facility, it’s best to look out for dangers and places a child can hide.
4. Autism & Swimming: Accommodate Your Child’s Sensory Issues
When your child is ready to start their first lesson, it’s a good idea to work with the instructor in order to accommodate your child’s sensory issues. Before getting into the water, parents should be aware of the following:
- Clothing Preferences: “If your child doesn’t like tight clothing such as a bathing suit, they can wear a swim shirt and shorts. Also, if the water brushing against their skin irritates them they can wear a wet suit or rash guard to prevent the feeling of water directly against their skin.”
- Brightness & Water in Eyes: She also suggests that in an outdoor lesson or bright environment, “tinted goggles can help block out the light and keep the water out of your child’s eyes. Ear plugs will help reduce the noise as well as keep water out of their ears and nose plugs will keep your child from accidentally inhaling water while swimming.”
- Physical Manipulation: “sometimes swimming lessons involve physical manipulation in order to better teach a certain skill, if your child doesn’t like to be touched or grabbed it’s important to inform the instructor so they can make the class a hands off lesson.”
5. Autism & Swimming: Provide a Quiet Break Room For Your Child
A safe and comfortable space for your child during lessons can be beneficial for their progress as a swimmer. Whether it’s a quiet spot on the deck or a designated meeting place away from the pool, a quiet space to have breaks during the lesson gives a child with Autism time to get away from the noise and stimulation of the pool.
Rachel says, “Sometimes the swim lesson can become too much and overwhelming, by having a quiet break room available it gives the child a place to go to where they can go and decompress and relax. However, it is important to place emphasis on the fact that the break room is not an escape from swimming lessons. It is not a place where a child can go just because they don’t want to swim that day, it should only be used when it is actually needed.”
A recent graduate of the Educational Support program at Sheridan, and continuing with specialisation in Behavioural Science, she has completed 3 different placements at various schools working in self-contained programs and with integrated classrooms. In her years as a swim instructor she has had the amazing opportunity to coach swimmers who have competed in the Special Olympics! As a swim instructor, she aims to provide her students with the highest quality of swim instruction and ensure everyone is included!