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Adaptive Swim Lessons: 7 Ways to Teach a Special Needs Child to Swim

Swimming is a great life skill for children of all ages and abilities. Not only does it help kids become safer in the water, but it’s also a fun activity that they will surely love. Kids with unique needs can enjoy the wonders of swimming and more with adaptive swim lessons

This article walks you through this type of swim lesson: what it is, how it works, and how it can help your child with special needs.

What are Adaptive Swim Lessons?

Adaptive swim lessons are an approach designed to help your child with special needs navigate aquatic spaces. They adjust the teaching environment based on your child’s abilities, conditions, and goals. They allow for factors often overlooked in a typical swimming lesson setting.

This approach provides a safe, supportive environment for children with physical impediments, sensory overloads, behavioral challenges, anxiety, and other needs. It’s a great way to get your kid with unique needs to enjoy what the water has in store.

Benefits of Special Needs Swim Lessons

Swimming offers many benefits for kids of all ages and abilities. Here’s what your kids can enjoy when they take swim lessons for special needs.

Keeps Kids Safer

Kids of all ages are at risk of accidental drowning, but the risk becomes higher for kids on the spectrum. The National Autism Association also reports drowning as one of the leading causes of death for people with autism.

Teaching your child how to swim can help prevent this incident. It equips your kid with the skills to stay safe in the water.

Exercises The Body

Swimming is a great aerobic exercise to promote your child’s physical well-being. For one, it gently works the muscles to be strong and sturdy. The arm movements also expand their range of motion and stretch their joints.

Aside from this, controlling their breath underwater helps improve their lung capacity. It’s also great for training bodily coordination and balance.

Helps Stay Calm and Grounded

Water is a calming, therapeutic environment for kids on the spectrum. With enough pressure, temperature, and resistance, your child will feel the right amount of stimulation to be at ease.

Moreover, floating on the water makes them feel weightless. This light feeling can help relieve stress or physical discomfort outside the pool.

Develops Fine Motor Skills

Swimming is also a good exercise for your child’s fine motor skills and self-control. After all, it requires precise control of the limbs to move and stay afloat on water.

Honing their fine motor skills will help them perform dexterous tasks such as typing words, washing hands, and getting dressed more easily.

Improves Communication and Cognitive Skills

Adaptive swim lessons can help your child communicate and learn at their own pace. This relaxed setting gives them the space to improve their coordination, speech, social skills, and cognitive processes. 

Boosts Confidence and Self-Esteem

Kids on the spectrum often find it difficult to play many sports because they must focus on multiple things simultaneously. But in swimming, your child only needs to focus on staying afloat on the water.

Removing the pressures from typical sports helps your child learn lessons more easily. And when they get a skill down, your child will feel fulfilled and happy with themselves.

7 Tips on Swimming Lessons for Children with Autism

Now that you know the benefits of adaptive swim lessons for kids with autism, you might be wondering how to get started. Here’s a list of tips to help you move in the right direction.

Create a Plan

Before proceeding with the swim lesson, you have to gauge how they feel about swimming in the water. For example, try showing videos of people swimming and see their reactions.

After evaluating their response, create an exciting swimming session and break it down into small, achievable steps.

Talk To Your Local Swimming Pool

Part of planning adaptive swim lessons is finding the perfect environment. The setting has to make your child on the spectrum feel comfortable without stimulating them too much.

Start by scouting swimming pools around your area. Ask if they offer lessons for kids with special needs. But if it isn’t viable, you can look into private sessions in a quiet environment. 

Give Clear, Direct Instructions

When teaching your child with special needs how to swim, it’s best to use simple language. Doing this will help them understand your instructions more clearly. It also helps if you break down your directions into smaller steps they can easily follow.

Acknowledge Their Fears (and Work with Them!)

Some children with autism feel scared of going into the water, and it’s a valid emotion. But saying things like “there’s nothing to be afraid of” won’t magically make their fears disappear.

Instead, acknowledge what your child feels. Then, gently encourage them to take the first step together. If they know they can trust you, they will feel more relaxed following your words.

Provide Swimming Aids

Swim aids can help your child move in the water more comfortably. They also keep them safe, especially when they’re just starting.

Aside from goggles and earplugs, more common swimming aids you can look into include:

  • Life jackets
  • Kickboards
  • Flotation devices
  • Water noodles
  • Floating mats
  • Armbands
  • Swim rings

Teach Water Safety Skills

Safety is a must when going into aquatic spaces. Thus, swim lessons for kids with special needs should incorporate basic water safety skills such as:

  • Entering and exiting the pool safely
  • Assessing risks to self and others
  • Swimming in a safe location
  • Calling for help in case of emergencies
  • Using a rescue aide
  • Knowing how and when to use rescue strategies

Your child with autism can apply these pool-based skills in other places such as lakes, rivers, and beaches.

Spice Things Up with Toys

Make your child’s swim lessons more exciting with swimming toys. These toys will keep your kid with autism engaged in the water. You can use pool noodles, stress balls, and their favorite waterproof toys for a fun water play experience.

Take Swimming Lessons for Your Child with Special Needs

Swimming is a great life skill for your child with special needs. It prevents drowning, gives the proper stimulation, and keeps their body fit and healthy. Overall, it’s a fun alternative to video games and other sedentary activities. Use these tips to ease your child with autism into swimming lessons.

Find more resources on introducing your kids to swimming on the Bear Paddle blog.