6 Tips for Swimming with Your Special Needs Child
Water is therapeutic for babies and children of all ages and abilities (and, well, just about anyone) and we always encourage families to swim with their young as soon as they can.
If your child has additional needs, you might find that water really does offer even more benefits and we'd encourage you to make as much use of the water as you can possibly manage.
Children with special needs are at greater risk from water-related injury and drowning, so, depending on their individual condition and abilities, learning to swim is crucial for keeping them as safe as possible around water.
As well as keeping your child safe, swimming helps build their trust and confidence around other people and also helps strengthen muscles and improve motor skills, making it the ideal exercise for promoting social and physical health.
If you’re planning a swimming trip with your baby or child with additional needs, here are our top tips to get the most out of your session:
1. Find the best swimming pool
Not all pools are well equipped for access and support, particularly when it comes to changing rooms and getting in and out of the pool. If you’re unsure, visit or telephone your nearest pools and leisure centres and ask the manager or reception staff for information on accessibility. Alternatively, you can use the Poolfinder which can help you find your nearest pool with accessible facilities.
2. Ask about structured lessons
Many UK swimming pools and leisure centres offer professional, structured swimming lessons especially for children with both mental and physical disabilities including epilepsy, cerebral palsy, blindness and deafness. At these venues, fully trained professionals can help your child learn new skills at their own pace, while also allowing them to interact with and enjoy the company of other children.
3. Talk to your child’s doctor
Before you take your child swimming, whether it be for a lesson or a simple family swimming trip, make sure you speak to your child’s doctor to see if it’s safe to go. Some special needs swim classes require written permission from health professionals before accepting a child into the class, so this is an essential step.
4. Go at the right time
Some children with special needs, particularly those on the autistic spectrum, those with ADHD and children with social or learning disorders have trouble dealing with large crowds and are easily distracted by background noise. So, if you’re planning to go for a family swimming session, be sure to call into your local pool and enquire about peak times. Once you know at what time the pool is at its busiest, you can then potentially decide to visit at a quieter time of day. Some lovely pools also have specific sessions for kids with extra needs, like these venues in Sheffield.
5. Take the right accessories
All babies and children should wear float jackets and for little ones with extra needs, these items are indispensable. Float suits are buoyancy jackets that provide fantastic additional support for children with motor disorders, physical issues or low confidence in the water. By holding them in a comfortable, natural swimming position and keeping them safely above the surface of the water, buoyancy aids can help accelerate your child’s rate of learning while also boosting confidence and enjoyment of the activity. There are also a great many floatation devices that can be used in the pool from fun items (that really work and can support adults) such as the SwimFin through to the trusty pair of traditional armbands and float seats. If you go swimming with your small person with special needs, take along as much as you can to ensure you both have the safest time possible.
6. Be consistent
Many special needs children thrive on regular, predictable routines, so if you find that you and your little one enjoy a trip to the pool, try and build it into your regular schedule. If you usually go on a weekend, stick to that day each week. If you usually go in the morning, try not to switch to evening sessions without planning in advance.
Taking your baby or child with special needs swimming can be incredibly daunting, but with the right support and regular sessions, you and your little one can gradually build up your confidence together. Remember, if in doubt, always speak to a professional.