Water safety and learning how to swim are essential knowledge for any child. If you're the parent of a child on the autism spectrum, equipping your child with this knowledge becomes arguably even more important. But why is learning how to swim so vital for children with autism? And what's the best approach to teaching swimming to a child with autism?
Unsafe Behavior, Elevated Risks
Disturbingly, drowning is a leading cause of death in children with autism. It's thought that this is due to overstimulation—with a child becoming overwhelmed by the sensory input from the environment (particularly crowds), and attempting to remove themselves from the situation. This can lead to them engaging in unsafe behavior such as trying to move farther into the water to escape from the circumstances that are triggering their discomfort, which can lead to tragedy. This elevated risk of danger means that any child with autism should have at least basic swimming skills, including water safety.
Earlier Is Better
Ideally, a child with autism should be introduced to swimming as soon as possible following their diagnosis. This may help to prevent excessive sensory stimulation, which is possible from the feeling of being immersed in water. The sooner your child becomes used to this particular sensation (which helps them to become more confident and comfortable in the water), the better. Repetition leads to familiarity, which can be highly beneficial for a child with autism.
Specially Tailored Swimming Lessons
It can be helpful to seek out kids' swimming lessons—like at Aqua School—specially tailored for kids with special needs. The teaching approach should reflect your child's potential information processing delay, which can be a part of your child's social communication impairment. In short, vast amounts of information regarding swimming form and technique can be unsuitable. Instructions should be clear and brief and might be delivered with a visual guide prior to entering the water. Once in the water, repetition is key. Under close supervision, your child can repeatedly practice the various actions that will ultimately be combined into proficient swimming, until they're able to put the pieces together and actually swim themselves.
Given their elevated risk of having an accident while in the water, the importance of swim lessons for kids with autism should never be overlooked. Much like any swimmer entering a particularly cold body of water, your child needs to be gradually eased into it, allowing them to be confident (and sensible) swimmers.