By Susan McCann, adapted from Chapter 9: “Swimming – Life Skills for the Water” in Getting into the Game.
As a family, we feel it is important to be involved in a variety of sporting programs. Our son Daniel has some of the fine and gross motor delays common to others with ASD. He also displays some of the social difficulties including limited eye contact and absorption in his own world regardless of the activities around him. This lack of attention makes coaching him somewhat challenging.
Like a lot of other families, we like to go on vacations that involve water sport opportunities. It was on one of these vacations that we realized our five-year-old son Daniel had no fear of the water – unfortunately he was not a good swimmer. As he became more interested in the water, we had more worries than fun on our holiday. Neither my husband nor I felt able to instruct Daniel to become a better swimmer and we were concerned about how Daniel would fare in a community swim lesson setting. When we returned home, we were thrilled to come across SwimAbilities, a community-based program that was geared for participants who need additional support to achieve beginning swimmer skills.
To prepare for our next vacation, Daniel started taking swimming lessons with Swimabilities. It was apparent that the extra and targeted attention he received in SwimAbilities had noticeable positive outcomes for his swimming techniques. Unfortunately, SwimAbilities did such a terrific job of teaching Daniel that he was swimming at the upper level of the program by the time he completed his first session! His further practice on vacation moved him beyond the scope of that program, but that experience showed us that with extra support Daniel not only became a proficient swimmer, but also developed the necessary skills to be safe around water environments.
This summer, we asked Daniel if he would like to compete in “swim racing,” and he agreed enthusiastically. This led to him joining a swim club. What better program for a child on the spectrum? This is a team sport where an individual can benefit the team when they perform well, but doesn’t really disadvantage the team if he is having an off day. The only adaptation the club made was to require an aide to swim with him for daily practices and attend swim meets to help him get where he needed to be at the right times. Daniel has accomplished a lot in the swim club program. This past summer he competed in five swim meets, completing 17 individual races and placing as high as third place in a race. He also participated in a swim-a-thon where he swam 1150 metres in an hour. More importantly, he has made friends with several children in the club that are his age.
It’s amazing the progress he has made in a single year – he just turned seven. Daniel is looking forward to competing in the swim club again next summer as well as enjoying the swimming opportunities on this winter’s vacation.
For more inspirational stories from parents who have seen their children with autism experience the benefits of sports activities, as well as information, advice and support to help your child get off the sidelines and into the action, check out Getting into the Game by Veronica Smith and Stephanie Patterson.
Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.