Swimming for the Special Needs Child
I am a water person. There is no doubt about it. I would rather be in the water than just about anywhere else. I feel more comfortable in a bathing suit than a suit. I can spend up to 8 hours a day in the water and barely feel my fingers pruning. So of course I’m a bit of a zealot when I talk about how great the water is for everyone, how healing, how therapeutic, how energizing, how marvelous, etc, etc, etc…
Over the years – thirty plus now – of working with people of all ages in aquatics, I have decided that the true miracle of water is actually that it has no prejudice. The water accepts everyone equally. From the very very youngest infant to the most senior adult and everyone in between. Every color, size, age, skill level, disability, injury, illness, mental or physical challenge – all are welcome and even more amazing – all can in one form or another – swim.
In terms of working with children with special needs, I feel that the water is a superior form of exercise and incorporated into any OT or PT routine, it only enhances advancements and improves skills, coordination and strength. It may sound extreme but there really is no downside to incorporating swim into the routine for any child with special needs.
Here are some observations, articulately explained by my friend Melissa Weil who is an MFA, MA and OTR/L at Sprout Children’s Therapy Center:
“On a sensory level [swimming] helps to sync up the sensory system as it combines the proprioceptive system (the heavy work), tactile system (deep pressure) and the vestibular system (movement through space) in a way that is unique. While these systems are constantly working together as we move through our environments, swimming is especially beneficial in that in not only feeds these systems all at once but also, requires that you rely on them, all at once.
Ms. Weil adds “Swimming also helps to fully integrate the reflexes. We see this a lot in kids that have sensory processing dysfunction as well as ADHD, Anxiety or Autism Spectrum Disorders. Reflexes such as ATNR, STNR, TLR, Spinal Galant, etc. Swimming, because it is rhythmic helps to integrate these reflexes, which in turn, increases reading and writing efficiency, balance, decreased anxiety, as well as increased visual attention, and overall neurological maturity.”
Swimming compliments so many aspects of child growth and development in a benevolent way and because it appears to be simply recreational to children, it’s easy to incorporate a swim program into a therapeutic routine.
Additionally, because The kidSwim Method is developmental practice, it’s easy to modify any skill level to meet the needs of the child specifically. We find that by using this method, every child with any type of challenge can progress and be successful in learning to swim. Its crucial to have small successes along the way to keep children motivated and inspired as well as the more impressive milestone achievements.