Adapted swimming lessons build confidence and safety skills in children with autism

Early results show the lessons not only improve swimming skills and make the water safer, but also build physical, behavioral and social skills that go beyond the pool, said teacher Erika Kemp. Clinical Occupational Therapy Assistant Ohio State School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.

“Every child is a little different, and many of the big challenges in teaching children with autism relate to the ability to learn in the same way their peers learn,” Kemp said. “When you think of typical swimming lessons, there is often a teacher who gives the same instructions to the whole group. This is where we have difficulty with children with autism. Often they need the instruction presented in a different way or in an individual environment.

But for those with an autistic child, swimming can be a daunting and dangerous proposition. In fact, drowning is the leading cause of accidental death among people with autism, which means parents and caregivers must be committed to teaching them about water safety.

To give these learners the attention and specialized instruction they need, Kemp and his team provide one-on-one, one-on-one swimming lessons for autistic children ages 3 to 12 in a pool located inside the West Central School, a Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities program. for teenage and young adult students in Columbus, Ohio.

During each session, the occupational therapists monitored the swimming skills of the children. Additionally, qualitative interviews and a follow-up survey were conducted with parents to determine the impact on families and individual participants. Children who have participated in a 10-week session can participate in additional 10-week sessions until they reach a plateau in swimming skill progression, Kemp said.

“Every child we put through the program made progress in areas like water fit, comfort in the water, and their ability to go underwater and hold their breath,” said Kemp. “Then we work on being able to maintain their balance in the water, maintain a float and move through the water.”

Building on the success of the pilot program, Ohio State is expanding Kemp’s research and the Adaptive Swimming Program, with the goal of implementing similar programs to help the millions of autistic children safely experience the joys of swimming.

“We set individual goals for everyone,” Kemp said. “One child we worked with didn’t even want to enter the pool at first, and now she enters voluntarily, can move around in the water and is now starting to lift her feet off the ground, which is really a big gain in competence for her.

For more information about the Aquatic Occupational Therapy for Children with Autism Study, or to find out if your child qualifies, contact Erika Kemp at [email protected]

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