Swim lessons and swim experience is important for the general population, but it is especially important for kiddos with developmental delays and those on the autism spectrum. Swimming is a great way to get good proprioceptive and vestibular input, which may help your child with self-regulation. It is also a great way to build muscle strength in a fun way. Swimming can be inherently therapeutic and some skills are even better learned in the pool due to the unique properties of the water.
Drowning is the leading cause of death for someone on the spectrum, and this population is woefully under-represented in studies regarding physical activity. Finding a swim instructor that is sensitive to your child’s unique sensory needs is really important. We’ll examine how some of our “on land” sensitivities translate to the water, and possibly make swimming more challenging.
Children with tactile sensitivities may not like the feeling of water droplets on their face or on their body. It may feel itchy, too cold, too hot, or just generally uncomfortable. A common roadblock when teaching swim skills is the child putting their face in the water.
Children living with vestibular and proprioceptive processing challenges may struggle with finding their base of support in the water, given we float in water, and feet are often not comfortably and securely at the bottom of the pool. These children may have difficulty back-floating (tipping their head all the way back), stepping off the bottom of the pool, jumping into the pool, or retrieving objects from the bottom of the pool. In addition, when learning front crawl, the child may not put their head in the water in order to continue swimming.
Postural insecurity and breathing also impacts a child’s ability to access most swimming curriculums. Swimming requires unique breathing patterns that are only accessed with functional postural control and core strength. Rotary breathing for free-style is one of the most challenging skills to learn.
There are swim programs designed with sensory processing needs considered. In addition, connecting your therapist with your swim instructor can help your swim instructor navigate some of these challenges!