Swimming Lessons for Autistic Children: Pros and Cons

autism swimming lessons

There are hundreds of articles and videos on the Internet dedicated to teaching kids with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) how to swim. The exercise has a great number of benefits in itself, but it can be particularly beneficial for individuals on the autism spectrum.

There are numerous physical benefits. Research indicates that children with ASD who follow hydrotherapy treatment may see an increase in overall fitness, specifically measured by improved balance, speed, flexibility, and endurance. These are areas in which autistic children are often limited. 

Swimming is a great way to get fit while avoiding the high impact that other exercises like running can have on joints. The largest muscles in the body are used for swimming, which in turn promotes the development of gross motor skills. Roughly nineteen percent of children with ASD are overweight, and just under 40% are at risk of becoming so. It is crucial for these children to stay active, for excess weight may cause an increased risk for other health issues such as bone and joint problems, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

Furthermore, depression is a possible consequence of being overweight. Swimming can be fun and increase strength, which is why so many people encourage that all children, not just those with ASD, learn to swim and practice often.

In addition, there are social benefits to learning to swim. It may offer children with ASD the opportunity to practice communicating and following directions. The impaired ability to communicate is common for individuals on the spectrum, so this may be one of the greatest challenges in teaching them to swim. However, when done effectively, it has been said that these children made progress in their ability to concentration on a task and also respond to others.

It is both fortunate and unfortunate that children with ASD are often attracted to bodies of water. This is fortunate because they may be enthusiastic to learn to swim, an exercise that may pertain many benefits. However, this attraction is also unfortunate because water can be dangerous, especially for autistic individuals who have a tendency to elope or wander away from safe, supervised areas. According to the National Autism Association, drowning is one of the leading causes of death for individuals with ASD. The question becomes: will teaching my child to swim encourage him/her to approach water, possibly putting him/her at greater risk of drowning? Or should I avoid teaching my child to swim in the hopes that he/she will feel too insecure to approach water?

In response to an article entitled “How to Keep Children with Autism Safe Around Water,” “Eileen,” the mother of a twenty-two year old son with severe autism, says she completely disagrees that autistic children should learn to swim. Eileen points out that autistic children are often drawn to water because it feels good and calms them. However, the danger, she says, is that these children may not distinguish a supervised body of water from an unsupervised one and, with a “false sense of security,” may jump in and drown.

In contrast, Dana Walker, the mother of a nine year old autistic boy, is glad she choose to enroll her son in swimming lessons. “I know that with additional practice, Brady will beat the odds that are so against our children that have autism and water concerns,” she says. By doing some research, Walker found a qualified and enthusiastic institution that was dedicated to teaching Brady to swim safely. Walker adds, “I will be comforted knowing that he is learning the skills that will keep him safe near and in the water.”

Each parent must think long and hard about their decision to enroll their autistic child in swimming lessons. While drowning is the leading cause of death for individuals with ASD, many of these children learn to swim, adore it, and are equipped with swimming techniques to handle these situations. It is up to you to evaluate the pros and the cons and make a decision that feels right for your family!

Written by Maude Plucker