Swimming and autism

by Laurianne


I also taught autistic children swimming lessons and am now doing a research on swimming's benefits for autistic children for school.

I see that you have experience in this field, and I was wondering if you could tell me a little more about your experience.

Do you consider that swimming can act as a therapy for autistic children?

What were the impacts of swimming on the child you taught?

Do you think it is a good idea to include an autistic child in a group lesson?

Thank you,

Dear Laurianne,

Hello thank you so much for your questions and I’m more than happy to answer them as long as you can put up with my long drawn out answers...

Yes I do have a lot of experience teaching children with autism and when I’m not teaching swimming I actually work in a care home for adults with learning disabilities and I do deal with people with autism...the subject is so complex and every child is different although some of the characteristics can sometimes be quite similar.

One interesting tip is never to crack jokes or be sarcastic i.e....you could say it’s a nice day today but it’s raining they see this as a lie not a joke you are being sarcastic but they cannot understand. People with autism are literal thinkers and sometimes they don’t always understand what you are saying because it’s either too complicated or can be taken several ways. For example: you tell a child to go to the toilet and wash your hands before coming into the pool. A child without autism will go and wash their hands in the sink. A child with autism may wash their hands in the toilet because they were asked to wash their hands in the toilet. So you have to be more precise about what you say and how you say it.

Repetitiveness is essential sometimes you could be teaching something over and over again. You have probably read my article on my page about swimming and autism. You can see that in the end it will sink in but it takes time it’s as if suddenly it all fits into place. I have a little boy who is autistic and I’ve been teaching him privately for some time now and I’ve been trying to get him to swim on his back for such a long time.

It always seems that when you think you are doing it all wrong and nothing is going right it all seems to fit and suddenly they do what you have asked and it’s such a joy. The key is patience I feel. You have to keep on and on till you succeed and if something doesn’t work then you try something else and if that doesn’t work you try something else again and keep going till you succeed and never give up.

You were asking me about part of a group. As you may know it depends on where in the spectrum of autism you are, some children are in main stream schools and they join in groups all the time and they have no problems at all but some are in special schools and need one to one. I have 3 autistic children that I teach on a regular basis and they all need a one to one and they have come to me for that very reason they cannot be part of a group. I also have a waiting list of children with autism who want swimming lessons on a one to one because swimming lessons in a group didn’t work. There is no right or wrong answer.

So if the person has mild autism then it is possible to teach them as part of the group as long as the child understands fully what is going on and they are learning something. It wouldn’t be fair on the child or the instructor if the child you were trying to help was distressed because they couldn’t keep up with the rest of the class. This would make them feel that are not achieving anything and could distress them it could give them a feeling underachievement and low self a steam the problem is sometimes people with autism don’t easily show emotion like we would. A tummy ache could be shown as withdrawn and being quiet. One child I know with autism shows pain as shouting and screaming in conversation but not being able to say what is the problem is, sometimes it is guess work. Its getting to know the person.

So you should try not to upset the child you are teaching the child will associate swimming with bad feeling although they can’t express it but if you encourage and use positive communication then the child will associate swimming with good feeling and want to come to the pool.
There is no hard and fast rule it’s only what I have experienced. Like on my page I wrote it’s a case study of children I teach and what I have observed and noticed whilst I’ve been teaching.

You also ask about therapy for children with autism. Yes there is no doubt about that even the parents who sit on the side whilst I’m teaching have noticed that and it helps with other areas of their young life. Like coordination, communication, fitness, socialisation, familiarity with the water and following simple instructions the list is endless.

I have noticed quite a few impacts on the children I teach the main impact is that the children seem more confident and are able to familiarize themselves with the water from being scared of water to being at one with it and enjoying themselves. The children then look forward to coming although they do not always show it. The change from when they first start to now is amazing.
Routine is a main point as well. People with autism need their routine and they soon get used of the practices and methods you use and once a routine is established you can soon build up a good relationship with that child.

I do have quite an interest in children with autism and I do find it quite interesting and I strive to understand each individual and you will find that each person is different and that is the same with each child anyway, but I find they can have different levels of understanding of levels of ability depending on where on the spectrum they are.

Thank you so much for getting in contact with me I am very interested in your studies in autism and swimming and if you think you may have new information or observations you have made that others may find useful then contact me again and I can put it on my site and make a page you can include photographs etc. So stay in touch and good luck.

Dale :)

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