The Center for Disease Control estimates that one in every 59 children has autism spectrum disorder. It is characterized by challenging social interaction, speech delay, inability to pay attention, among others.
However, early intervention can help autistic children improve learning, develop their communication and social skills, and improve on brain development.
Swimming and Autism: Benefits, Risks and What Parents Should Know
One such way is through exercise. More than 20 minutes of vigorous activity has proven to be effective in helping children in the spectrum. It helps reduce aggression, self-stimulatory behaviors, hyperactivity, self-injury, and destructiveness.
Is Swimming Good for Autism?
Swimming, as a form of exercise, is invaluable for children with autism. Most parents may hesitate to have their child in the water, given their challenged coordination skills and cognitive processing. But instead of causing harm, it helps them overcome their weaknesses.
It helps them develop their self-esteem, tolerate touch better, and relax. The child also learns how to control their body as they release their energy.
Water is an excellent medium of reconditioning the body. Children with autism are no exception.
What are the Benefits of Swimming for Autism?
Here are some benefits you will experience from teaching your child with autism to swim
1) It Reduces the Chances of Drowning
According to the national autism association, 91% of deaths that occur among ASD children below 14 years result from drowning. Naturally, children living with autism are attracted to water as they flee from their guardians in search of solitude.
With the right skills in water safety and swimming, the child can have a better chance at survival in case they fall into the water.
2) It has a Therapeutic Effect
Children with autism tend to have a challenging time with noises. It may not be possible to provide the perfect, quiet environment that your child needs. But allowing them some time in the pool can put them in a better position to deal with the daily stresses they face.
Water provides a soothing environment. Swimming in it involves taking gentle and repetitive motions that provide the child with a calming effect.
3) It Improves Their Social Skills
Games are important. They help children develop physically, emotionally, and socially. But they also involve too many elements, a lot of physical contact and interaction that may turn out to be a nightmare to children with autism.
Swimming is one sport that your child can engage and excel in, without leaving their comfort zone. They can develop their coordination while still achieving the solitude they crave. And they can interact with other kids while in the water to a level that feels comfortable for them.
What are the Risks of Swimming for Autism?
Children with autism are intrigued by water for various reasons. For some, it’s the sound, while others love the appearance of light on it. Others like the feel of the force of buoyancy on their bodies. In either case, the child could easily get carried away and be oblivious to any danger around them.
For instance, the calmness and quietness underwater could cause the child to want to remain submerged, unaware of the danger they are putting themselves in.
Given the lack of coordination and challenges in communication, they may find it hard to pull themselves out or ask for help.
For this reason, instructors need to be extra careful when handling children with autism in water. They should give clear instructions, allowing the child enough space to process the instructions. They should never push too hard or ask the children to do what they’re unable to.
What Parents Should Know?
There are a few measures that you can take as a mom of a child with autism to keep them safe when swimming:
1) Be Gentle with the Child
When introducing your child to a swimming pool, let them familiarize themselves with the surroundings slowly. Let them be at the poolside without getting into the water. Talk to them about the rules of the pool using social stories and pictures.
2) Get an Expert to Teach Them Swimming
Teach your child some swimming skills even if they hate water. Ensure that the instructor has experience handling children in their condition. They should know how to give instructions and keep your child interested. And of course, the lessons should be one-on-one.
3) Develop Pool Safety Rules
Let your child know that they cannot go swimming without adult supervision. Explain to them the dangers involved. Establish a way for them to communicate their needs to swim or be near water. For further safety, keep the pool fenced.
4) Your Child Should Be in Appropriate Swimwear
You should always ensure that your child has a life jacket on whether they are fully getting into the water or not. They could quickly get distracted and fall into the water; you are better safe than sorry. A safety jacket is also vital when your child is swimming independently in the water.
5) Be Involved
Your child may not say it out loud, but having you in the water with them provides the encouragement they need. If they are scared or anxious, seeing you around will provide reassurance.
Children with autism should learn how to swim. It is an excellent form of exercise and therapy that can give a boost to their development. Learning how to swim also reduces the risk of drowning.
Ensure that you get one-on-one training for your child. Do not push them too much. And see to it that all safety precautions are in place whenever your child is in or around water.