Sensory-friendly swim times and autism swimming lessons: same or different?
Have you heard the expressions of sensory-friendly swim times and autism-friendly swimming lessons? Moreover, are you confused by them? There are a lot of phrases used to describe adaptive swim lessons for autism. In addition, there are different words used to sensory-friendly swim times. In general, sensory-friendly swimming and autism swimming lessons are similar. Both try to make accommodations for children with autism or other disabilities. But swim times refer to changes made at the pool itself. On the other hand, lessons refer to changes in the type of lesson. In this blog post you will learn about:
- Resources for autism swimming lessons
- What is a sensory-friendly pool?
- How to offer an autism-friendly swim time?
- Seven products to help children with autism swim
- Autism spectrum disorder, ASD, and drowning.
Resources for autism swimming lessons
Parents are often searching for swimming lessons for their autistic child. In fact, many parents of children with different abilities look for adaptive swim lessons too.
We were introduced to “Autism Swim” by a small regional autism association in Miramichi, New Brunswick, Canada, called the Autism Resources Miramichi. They completed the training, fundraising and now have community support swimming lessons for autism. We applaud their efforts to promote autism-friendly swimming lessons.
The organization that originated Autism Swim is in Australia. Most noteworthy, it is a phenomenal program, please check it out. They provide autism and special needs swimming teacher courses. Furthermore, they are international. And, they train instructors. They include more disabilities than autism. In addition, not only do they cover water safety, but drowning and wandering too. Finally, their website also has resources for parents and swim programs themselves.
Additionally, parents and caregivers wonder about autism swimming as the therapy itself. For instance, as an occupational therapy student, I was incredibly fortunate to participate in a placement where swimming was offered as part of occupational therapy treatment. Not only did it promote the development of play skills, but it also encouraged sensory-motor development. Most importantly, the children participating just had fun. Nevertheless, swimming is an incredible avenue to promote and develop many skills in children. In short, playfulness, fun for the sake of fun should not be overlooked either.
What is a sensory-friendly pool?
In can be particularly challenging to find lessons for a child with autism. For example, if you cannot find autism-specific swimming lessons you may look for autism-friendly swimming times at an indoor or outdoor pool. Some pools have something called a sensory swim hour. Otherwise, this is sometimes called a sensory-friendly swim time. Specifically, sensory-friendly pools usually offer specific times on specific dates where they make changes to the sensory experience at the pool.
Sensory sensitivity that accompanies autism can make swimming a challenge. In fact, many people experience sensory sensitivity. Furthermore, many people, including people of all ages, and not just those with autism have a real challenge with their senses. Going swimming at an indoor or outdoor pool is rife with sensory experiences. For instance, there are changes in temperature. As well, there are changes in what you feel as you go into the water. Moreover, public pools are generally busy, noisy, and bright. In addition, there can be bothersome fluorescent lights at indoor pools. Even more, equipment makes noise. Lifeguards blow whistles and that makes noise too. Thus, it is easy for anyone to experience sensory overload. And you have more than the five senses you might be thinking of too!
To help people manage, sensory-friendly swim times are increasing in popularity. For example, you might find a sensory-friendly pool at your local indoor or outdoor neighborhood pool. Further, theme parks, water parks, and tourist attractions may also include autism-friendly swim times as part of their attraction.
Here are ideas and explanations that will help make swimming friendly. Parents and caregivers, share this blog post with your local swimming pools to help them adopt these strategies!
How to offer autism or sensory-friendly swim time.
- Turn off background music
- No announcements
- Stop noisy-equipment
- Offer a quiet room
- Limit the number of patrons
- Turn of waves or noisy toys
- Provide extra staff
- No hair-dryer signs (the noise is truly bothersome)
- Offer a free caregiver pass
- Staff use whistles only in cased of emergency
- Set specific “friendly” hours
- Let people know exactly what to expect
- Share details on your facilities website, and social media platforms
- Add sensory-friendly or autism-friendly adult swim lane times
Furthermore, parents, caregivers, swim instructors and pools often ask what products will help children with autism or other disabilities enjoy swimming. Therefore, here are seven products to help.
9 products to help a sensory-friendly swim.
- Ear bands or earplugs.
- Swim cap
- Swim friendly life jackets.
- Swimming goggles or masks
- Nose clips
- Full bodysuits
- Swim boards
- Handheld paddles
Why these products are helpful?
Notwithstanding water in ears and resulting ear infections, noise sensitivity is a particular challenge for many children. Both with autism and other disabilities. Wax earplugs may stay in the best. However, some children do not tolerate earplugs. As well, ear bands are a swimming headband that covers the ears. Some come with earplugs too. And the extra pressure is calming on the sensory nervous system. On the other hand, be extra cautious if your child does not hear as well with them. As a result, that may increase the safety risk.
In addition, there are life jackets that offer more support for a child’s head.
There are more swim-friendly life jackets that let arms and legs move about. Remember, safety first. A life jacket is not a substitute for close adult supervision and may be needed in addition to close adult supervision. Likewise, choose what best meets all your child’s needs.
Swimsuits come in all shapes and styles. For example, full bodysuits or swimsuits that are long-sleeve, shorts, or full body are a good choice. Rashguard sets are also an option. First, they offer compression. Like the examples cited above, that helps call the sensory nervous system. Second, they help with the many changing in body temperature. Wet suits offer even more compression.
Floatation boards. Flotation boards give hands something to hold into! Furthermore, they provide resistance when swimming. Heavy muscle work has a positive effect on the sensory -nervous system too. It helps us regulate our nervous system.
Hand-held paddles. Like floatation boards, they provide even more resistance while swimming. In conclusion, that heavy muscle work is calming and organizing for the nervous system.
Flippers. Flippers are great fun for children. Similar to resistance paddles they offer resistance too, and that calms!
Autism spectrum disorder ASD and drowning.
While sharing information about swimming, children and autistic children, in particular, we also wanted to address a serious topic. Because there are lots of concerning statistics and figures out there about autism and the (increased) risk of drowning. Consequently, autism and drowning are a concern for many parents, caregivers, and teachers. Here are some resources to understand and promote water safety for all children.
Safe swimming (Canada)
Water safety (USA)
Drowning (World Health Organization)
Keep swimming safe, but make swimming fun!
Ready to learn more?
Discover how other types of environments are adapting to become sensory-friendly:
Looking for a specific place to go that is sensory-friendly? Search for sensory-friendly experiences in the Sensory Friendly Finder.
Finally, sign up for our Sensory Friendly Children newsletter for parents.
Christel Seeberger has been an occupational therapist for more than 25 years, helping people of all ages who experience sensory sensitivity and sensory overload. Christel understands how sensitivity and overload feel, she has hearing loss and wears hearing aids. Christel founded Sensory Friendly Solutions in 2016 to bring together people around the world looking for sensory-friendly living and the individuals, businesses and organizations who create sensory friendly experiences.