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Dive In

Finding the best swim instruction for kids with special needs

Dive In
July 2013

Kids with ADHD do it. Kids with autism do it. Kids with Down syndrome do it. Even kids in wheelchairs do it. It's July so we should all be doing it. What exactly is it? Swimming, of course!

It is no secret that swimming is fun. Take a look around. Kids are playing marco polo, squirting water guns and zipping down slides together. The sheer enjoyment of swimming can connect kids with Special Needs to other kids their age and help families find common ground. "It's a great way to create social opportunities for kids," said Brooke Taflinger, inclusion supervisor with Carmel Clay Parks and Recreation.

More than fun, swimming is therapeutic, too. It can build strength in kids with low muscle tone. It's easy on knees, joints and hips for those who are overweight. When surrounded by water, motor planning and verbal skills have been known to elevate in some children with sensory processing issues. Kids bound to wheelchairs can free their bodies in the pool. The list of benefits goes on.

It is also a fact that swimming is a lifesaving skill. Accidents unfortunately do happen and swim skills can save lives. Some children are even inherently drawn to water, increasing their risk of water-related accidents. It makes sense that all children receive some formal swim instruction early in life.

At a minimum Katie Gipson, swim instructor and owner of Aqua Ability Swim Academy, believes every child should learn to back float and get to the wall of the pool if they need to. It can be the difference between life and death. "I think it's absolutely a must that a child with or without special needs learn to swim. Period. Water can be a great friend. It's wonderful to be in and fun to be around, but it can be deadly," she said.

Swimming is clearly a good bet for most kids. How can you find the best program for your child with special needs? Following are tips from area swim instructors:

Know the organization. Taflinger says families should be familiar with the organization before signing up for swim lessons. Find out their mission. Do they understand and recognize individuals' unique learning styles? Do they have the means to obtain adaptive equipment that may be necessary? Do they have a general knowledge of a variety of disabilities? Can the water be regulated to a temperature that the child needs?

Meet the instructor. Gipson believes parents should hire someone who will want the best for their child in and out of the pool. "Parents want to find someone who is going to love their kids, respect them, treat them well and care about the family and siblings. It really does take a village," she said.

Check certification. Look for someone who is Water Safety Instructor (WSI) certified and who has experience in education or working with individuals with special needs.

Confirm the cost. Private instruction typically runs $12 - $20 per 30 minute session. Group lessons are often around $8 - $10. Cheaper deals can be found, but the quality of the instruction is likely to be lower, too.

Consider semi-private vs. group lessons. Taflinger says the size of class that's best for the child depends on the parents' goal. If socialization is a top priority then group lessons should be considered, though lessons with only two or three other children are preferable. To learn specific swim skills she recommends private because the child will learn the skills at a faster rate. While it may be more expensive in the beginning, in the long run the child will learn more quickly and require fewer lessons. Semi private lessons may be good for siblings who are close in age and ability level.

It's July already and everyone's doing it. So, dive don't dawdle into a great swim program that will teach your child swimming fundamentals.

Tags: In This Issue, Kids, Special Needs

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