Swimming and Autism: Why Learning Safe Swim Skills is Crucial for Individuals on the Spectrum

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Swimming is a popular activity for people of all ages and abilities. It’s a great way to stay active, improve cardiovascular health, and have fun with friends and family. However, for individuals on the autism spectrum, swimming can present unique challenges that make it difficult to enjoy the water safely. We have partnered with Aqua-Tots to bring you more information about safety measures for children with autism and how this can be incorporated in their daily learning.




According to the National Autism Association, accidental drowning accounts for approximately 90% of deaths in children with autism ages 14 and younger. Additionally, children with autism are 160 times more likely to die from drowning than their neurotypical peers. This is due to a variety of factors, including impaired communication and social skills, difficulty understanding danger and safety rules, and sensory issues that can make it hard to tolerate the water.

Because of these challenges, it’s crucial for individuals with autism to learn safe swimming skills as early as possible. Not only can this prevent accidents and injuries, but it can also increase their confidence and enjoyment in the water.

How to Teach Children with Autism How to Swim

When teaching children with autism how to swim, it’s important to start slowly and focus on building comfort and confidence in the water. Begin with simple water activities such as blowing bubbles or splashing with hands and feet. Gradually introduce new skills such as floating, kicking, and arm strokes. Use visual aids, such as pictures or diagrams, to demonstrate techniques and safety rules. Incorporate social stories to teach expectations and appropriate behaviors in the water. It’s also important to be aware of sensory sensitivities and adjust the environment as needed to reduce stress and anxiety. Above all, be patient, positive, and flexible in your teaching approach. With patience, practice, and support, children with autism can learn to swim safely and enjoyably.

Tips for Teaching Safe Swimming Skills to Individuals with Autism

Here are some tips for teaching safe swimming skills to individuals with autism:

  1. Find a qualified instructor: Look for a swim instructor who has experience working with individuals with disabilities and understands the unique challenges they face. They should be patient, compassionate, and able to tailor their teaching approach to the individual’s needs.
    Aqua-Tots offers a Special Needs Aquatic Program (S.N.A.P.) that provides customized lessons tailored to meet the unique needs and abilities of each child. To find out more about this program, visit the Aqua-Tots website.
  2. Use visual aids: Many individuals with autism are visual learners, so using pictures, diagrams, and videos can be helpful in demonstrating swimming techniques and safety rules.
  3. Practice in a calm environment: Loud noises, bright lights, and other sensory stimuli can be overwhelming for individuals with autism. Practice swimming skills in a calm, quiet environment to reduce stress and anxiety.
  4. Incorporate social stories: Social stories are short, personalized stories that describe a social situation and teach appropriate behaviors and responses. Use social stories to teach swimming safety rules and expectations.
  5. Use positive reinforcement: Positive reinforcement, such as verbal praise, stickers, or small rewards, can be effective in motivating individuals with autism to learn and practice safe swimming skills.
  6. Be patient and flexible: Learning to swim can be a gradual process, and individuals with autism may need more time and support to master skills. Be patient, flexible, and willing to adjust teaching methods as needed.

How ABA Therapy Can Help with Swimming Skills

Parents of children with autism can involve their Board-Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) in the process of introducing their child to swimming. The BCBA can provide valuable insight into the child’s individual needs and behaviors, as well as offer guidance on effective teaching strategies and reinforcement techniques. They can also work with the swim instructor to develop a customized plan that takes into account the child’s unique challenges and strengths. By involving the BCBA in the process, parents can ensure that their child is receiving the most effective and individualized instruction possible, and that they are making progress in a safe and supportive environment.

In conclusion, learning safe swimming skills is essential for individuals with autism to enjoy the water safely and confidently. With the right instructor, tools, and approach, individuals with autism can learn to swim and enjoy all the benefits that come with it.

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