In May, one year ago, my son could not swim. He loved the water but if he jumped in, he would sink to the bottom like a heavy rock!
With summer approaching and a holiday weekend, many families have picnics and fun gatherings. One of the most common concerns with children with autism is wandering. During summer, the wandering combines with wandering into water. I am saddened by the number of stories that I have read over the last summer regarding children who drowned because they wandered into a pool or lake without supervision.
As parents, we have to take extra caution over summer with changes in schedules and routines that our children are safe. One suggestion is to find the right swimming class or instructor for your child. Here is how we found success in swimming.
Now, a year later; Max is a great swimmer and is outgrown the swim class. He has the swimming skills to advance to the next level but is not old enough to be on the swim team. There are several things that we did as a family to help our son learn to swim.
- Adaptive Swim Lessons
At the North shore pool in St Petersburg, they have adaptive swim lessons. These lessons are designed to teach one on one swim skills to children with special needs. Max was non-verbal when he started these lessons. He loved water and was motivated to follow directions. The coach was able to use non-verbal communication with him to teach him how to kick and reach his arms. Then he learned how to dive down to the bottom of the pool with a push. With lots of practice he could keep himself swimming independently. This adaptive swim develops and builds into a summer special Olympics team program.
2. ABAqua Family Swim Lessons
Our ABA therapy school was able to start a free ABA swim class through grants. The family swim lessons had the family get into the pool together with an ABA therapist. If you had other children then they too would attend. If typically developing they would have a therapist available if possible. They worked on behavior and swim skills together. This allowed Max to practice his skills and receive some of the behavior modifications necessary to improve his following directions skills and listening. My daughter has also begun to overcome her fear of water and start to learn to swim.
3. ABA therapy
We have taken a full year of full ABA therapy to improve my son’s behavior and academics. As of October, my son is now speaking sentences. His negative behaviors have almost been completely extinguished. With this academic and behavior improvements, he was able to following directions and prompting better which improved his swimming.
Our family held high expectations of my son because we knew that he could be successful with swim. We used swim as a reinforcer at school and home. That he could swim as long as he kept working at school and doing well at home. Only a few times, did we have to deny him access because he didn’t do what was expected of him.
Have the best summer and be safe!