Why swimming is beneficial to children with Autism

Leading swimming expert Laura Molloy shares her thoughts. International footballer Paul Scholes recently revealed that his young son who suffers with Autism has a love of swimming. Children with emotional, behavioural and communication disorders are known to benefit from sensory stimulation and swimming can offer a child with Autism the perfect respite. Here, Laura Molloy, founder of Swimbabes (www.swimbabes.co.uk) explains why.

“It’s commonly acknowledged that little ones who learn key life saving skills from a young age have a greater regard for water and are safer around it. Children with Autism may have a limited sense of danger and therefore can not always foresee the consequences of their actions. It is therefore crucial that they are taught swimming as a vital life saving skill, as well as a recreational activity.

“Of course, it’s natural for any parent to feel nervous the first time they take their child to the pool but it’s important to remember that water is a free environment for babies and children. When they are introduced to it from a young age they feel safe and secure within it and children with special needs in particular often find it relaxing and therapeutic. Most games and sport have specific rules to follow, which can be difficult for a child with Autism to understand but swimming does not have to be a team effort; the child is able to progress at their own speed. What’s more, difficulty with balance can make other sporting activities challenging for a child with Autism. In the pool, the water will support them and allow them to move freely, which will help with their motor skills and coordination too.

“Not only is swimming great for muscle development, it can also help a child with Autism when it comes to them processing multiple things to do. For example, clear and sequenced instructions such as jump in, hold on, swim to mummy and so on, will enhance their cognitive skills and the sense of achievement when they successfully respond to instruction is a massive self-esteem builder.

“Emotional contact is pivotal to water confidence. Weekly swimming can provides special one-to-one time for a child and parent where they can have fun with no interruptions. Interacting with other children, adults and teachers will also help little ones develop their language skills and allow them to communicate in their own way.

“The journey to good swimming takes a lot of practice and patience. Every child will achieve the goals in their own time and should not be rushed or forced into activities they are not ready for. All children, regardless of their abilities and needs, should be encouraged to find swimming fun, with creative activities that help to develop early motor skills and promote water confidence.”

Swimbabes teach nearly 2000 babies to swim each week, across the north of England. They take babies from as young as four weeks old and each course lasts for 10 weeks, with a structured programme consisting of a wide range of skills including swim to hold on, safe jumps, underwater turns and being able to paddle across the pool independently while taking regular breaths.

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