Swim Lessons for Autism

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“Hello,” I said to the swim instructor and stepped forward holding Declan’s hand.

“This is Declan.”

“Hello!  Hi Declan,” said the swim instructor to Declan.  Declan’s face was to the ground and he started to swing his body back and forth.

I couldn’t believe how nervous I was as I stood there, but continued.

“Declan has autism.  I didn’t see a swim class for special needs kids, but I really want him to learn how to swim.  I understand that he may require a lot more attention and wore my bathing suit if you would like for me to stay with him in the water during the lesson.”

I was prepared for her to tell me that she wasn’t prepared for Declan.

I was prepared for her to tell me that I would need to find another class.

I was prepared for her to possibly say he could stay only if I was with him in the water.

I was not prepared for her to say what she did:

“Okay.  What do I need to know about Declan?”

I stuttered a little.

And I told her about my special boy.

Swim Lessons for Autism

I had wanted to get Declan into swim lessons for a long time.  I had started swim lessons for Bobby and Catelyn when they were babies and they continued with lessons for many years until they were confident in the water.

Things, of course, were different with Declan.  When I would have normally started swim lessons with him as a toddler, we were meeting with specialists and therapists for autism support.

I recognized water was a concern right away with Declan.  He had no safety awareness for years, and would jump right into the deep end of any pool, requiring someone to run and dive in after him.

Later, I would gladly accept stares for putting a safety harness/leash on him when we were at the pool or near any water.  It was how I kept him safe.

I had read on the Autism Speaks website that after wandering, drowning was the second highest cause of death for individuals with autism.  I could attest, my young one wandered and was drawn to water.

Declan NEEDED to learn how to swim.

I read a lot about swim classes for individuals with autism.  They sounded fantastic.  Some autism swim lessons involved the person learning how to get out of water fully clothed.  Those caregivers were also aware their loved one was drawn to water and needed to learn how to get out of danger if they wandered away.

Unfortunately, those classes were not near me.  I had to come up with another plan.

So I took a deep breath and registered Declan for the beginner’s swim class.  I wore my bathing suit.  I made every effort to be sure Declan would not be turned away.

And we were finally ready.  Declan was ready to go to “swim school.”

I don’t know if every teacher would have allowed Declan to stay.

But this teacher was ready to include Declan in her lesson.

She took the time to give him directions one at a time.  She demonstrated what she wanted him to do so he understood.  She allowed for his big splashes and large sensory seeking movements.  She brought an aid to help her with her swimmers so Declan could learn to swim independently of me.  And I could watch and cheer from the bench.

She supported his needs.

And Declan did great.

Declan completed his first seven-week swim session today.  He did so well in the water and learned so much over this period he is able to take the next level of swim class next session.

And yes, I made sure we registered with the same teacher.

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We were able to get this wonderful instructor at our local YMCA.  If you are interested in finding autism or special needs swim lessons in your area, here is a useful link I used to begin my opaque search.  And if you can’t find a facility, hopefully you can find a PERSON ready to help.

https://www.autismspeaks.org/sites/default/files/docs/swimming_lessons.pdf

We were blessed, and had a wonderful swim experience.

We hope you do too!

23 thoughts on “Swim Lessons for Autism

  1. Isobelle swims like a fish now, but some classes were really difficult for her, especially when it got crowed, or noisy. My daughter took her into a small quiet pool when this happened.

    1. That’s great! So glad your daughter was able to find the right setting for Isobelle that she can swim so well now!

  2. Robyn, how lovely. My son was always quite fearful of the water. Swimming classes as a baby were a complete disaster. Last Jan (2016) I made the decision that both my children should have swimming lessons. My little girl who is not on the spectrum is in a group lesson, but Samuel has been doing one-to-one lessons with a wonderful teacher. When I spoke to her we had an immediate connection. She is only a young woman (I am old enough to be her Mum). I told her about Samuel and she immediately said that she has Autism too. She is really able to relate to Samuel. What has also been good for me is to speak to her about her own experiences growing up. She is so lovely and Samuel has been making wonderful progress with her. Swimming is such an important skill to have. x

    1. Wow, that is fantastic! What a great connection for Samuel to have to meet his needs in learning how to swim! So happy for you and Samuel!

  3. You found another Angel for your son to help him on his way! Glad you already have him signed up with her again for next year. And the even better fact is she has autism as well! So she knows how to talk to all your kids.

  4. She sounds great for Declan to place his trust into..we need more people like her..swimming will also build a wall of confidence for Declan..you will find in time this stimulates him in many ways..I find that presently jayden comes out of pool and for the rest of the evening he is very relaxed and easy-going..and you can smile at all his achievements from that bench..I hope his swimming experiences is a pleasure for you all.

    1. Our class is in the morning and then Declan goes to school – but I agree – I think he has really good days those days. I am so happy he is learning how to swim. He loves the water and it brings me some inner peace to know he is learning to stay safe in the water.

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