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Can children with Special Needs learn to swim?

At Houston Swim Club, ALL of our children are special. We have indoor pools full of special children. Our parent observation rooms are full of them, too. Some are neuro-typical while others are not. Some walk in timidly. Some run in eagerly. Some listen and follow directions well. Some need a little more guidance. Some of our special students are chatter boxes. Some barely speak at all. We have special children that learn quickly and others that take a bit longer to learn new skills. While all of these children are different, taking swim lessons makes them all the same.

895228261208312.TLWZkMZlCQTIuy3L30Ny_height640Water is the great equalizer. The goals are the same for ALL children. They need to learn lifesaving skills and a life-long love of the water. It doesn't matter if English is a second language, if they have mobility issues, or if they process things slower than others. They can have Autism, Down Syndrome, or Cerebral Palsy. It doesn't make a difference in the water. Everyone can be taught to be comfortable in the water. Everyone can learn water safety skills. Some learn to float on their back. Others learn to tread water. Some learn to get back to the wall and monkey walk to safety.

Swimming is the perfect sport for children with disabilities. In swimming, all children progress at their own rate and are not relied upon to catch, bat, or kick a ball. They can participate in all the swimming activities neuro-typical children do. They are in a pool full of other children who are not staring at them or judging them.

"I like everything about teaching kids with special needs. Honestly, my favorite thing is just getting to know them, building a relationship with them, and watching them progress. It's one of the only things they're going to get to learn like everyone else. Water doesn't know special needs, so the water is not going to help them out more if they fall in or something. They'll have to learn like everyone else" -Mr. Collin, HSC Instructor


Some of these children are designated by the term: Special Needs. All children have special needs. They all need to be loved. They all need to be taught with patience. They all need to be taught to wait their turn, to play well with others, and to respect authority. Swimming lessons teach them all of those things.

"My favorite special needs kids is Jose. I have a lot of fun interacting with him and trying to make him laugh or smile. The best thing about teaching special needs kids is seeing them acquire new skills that might have seemed impossible to attain before." -Mr. Jeremiah, HSC Instructor

"What I love most about teaching special needs children? I love that they are drawn to the water. It is always a new day and you will always get a new reaction from them, good or bad. When they achieve something we have been working a long time on and they finally get it, it is almost overwhelming for me and the kid. Their excitement for swimming is contagious." -Mr. Matt, HSC Instructor

1119313167213538.VIkOj0VnrP6IfYWddEq2_height640At HSC, we have some children that have special challenges. These challenges run the gamut. We have children with Autism, Cerebral Palsy, processing delay, sensory integration issues, mobility challenges, and Down Syndrome. We have been successful in teaching all of these children skills that have made them safer in the water. Our teachers are not certified therapists and most of them don’t have specialized training. What they do have is a love for children, extreme patience, and a strong desire to help children develop these life-saving skills.

"I love teaching special needs children because they are so genuine and honest, they help me grow in the same way I help them swim. Special needs children have so much love and a positive attitude and I love seeing my wonderful SN kids walk through the door." -Ms. Sienna, HSC Instructor

We have a lot of on-the-job training. If one thing doesn't work, we try something else. Parents help us a lot. They know the challenges their children face better than anyone. We do have therapists or other caregivers come and watch the lessons to offer tips on how to help make their swimming lessons more successful.

One mom, Michelle Rowland, had this to say about how important swimming is for her 12-year old son with autism: "Swimming is so important for development. Ryan learned to control his breath by being in the water. Children with special needs have to be taught everything. They crave being underwater so intensely but have to learn to push themselves out of the water to get air.

"By teaching children with special needs how to swim is teaching them how to move their bodies. That they can control themselves and how the human body moves. Proprioception is reinforcing that they are willing to try movement where they may not outside of the water."


There are physical, emotional, and safety benefits to teaching children with special needs how to swim. More information on specific benefits can be found at http://blog.ncpad.org/2015/08/03/benefits-of-swimming-for-people-with-disabilities/

"Thinking beyond the benefits of helping those who need the help most (because most children with special needs are drawn to the water) be safer in the water. It's the bond that's created. You become a part of their family. I get to watch them grow and learn right before my eyes. And I mean learning more than just swimming. I get to teach them all kinds of things while they're in the water with me. They get to share with me things that they are learning outside of the pool. My Sean has taught me new ASL gestures! Every milestone is celebrated, where as with a mainstream child the little things are often overlooked. I know a lot of my kiddos love me (as I do them) but my heart just bursts when a child with SN recognizes me, learns/says my name, hugs me, cries when it's time to leave me, gets excited when they see me. There's no better feeling." -Ms. Brit, HSC Instructor

We love having the opportunity to share our passion for swimming and our love of the water with ALL children. Thank you for sharing your precious children, ”typical” and “special”, with us at Houston Swim Club!

Written by Tracy Laman, Aquatics Director of Houston Swim Club

Apr 21, 2019
"Swim Lessons" 

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