How Swimming Can Benefit Your Loved One on the Autism Spectrum

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Do you have a family member or a friend who has been diagnosed with autism?

Autism is a brain developmental condition that impacts how a person perceives the world around them and how they interact with other people. Being on the autism spectrum also affects how effectively an individual is able to communicate with those around them.

When we speak of the “autism spectrum”, we refer to a range of conditions including –

  • Autism
  • Asperger’s syndrome
  • Childhood disintegrative disorder
  • Pervasive developmental disorder (Unspecified form)

Depending on where the individual is on the autism spectrum and the severity of their symptoms, they may have anything from mild to debilitating developmental problems. With careful and consistent support and skilling, people on the autism spectrum can be provided with life-saving skills, that can enrich their lives.

One such life-saving skill, which research has shown can be very beneficial to a person with autism, is swimming. In this article, we explore how swimming can benefit your loved one on the autism spectrum.

7 ways swimming helps autistic children and adults

  1. Swimming can save their life

Numerous studies around the world have observed that one of the leading causes of fatalities in people on the autism spectrum, is accidental drowning. Research has shown that this is due to a couple of reasons –

  • Individuals with autism are more likely to wander away from caregivers, putting them at risk in dangerous environments, such as ponds, lakes or pools.
  • The increased susceptibility of an autistic person, to epileptic and non-epileptic seizures, makes any time spent in the water very risky.
  • The appearance of water as being calm and harmless; and any past positive experiences in water, can lull people with autism into a false sense of security, making them more vulnerable to accidental drowning. They may also find it challenging to stop repetitive behaviours, such as playing in the water unaccompanied, even when advised against it.
  • Many people on the autism spectrum take much longer to recognise signs of danger, compared to their peers, making them unprepared to handle the risks of entering the water unaccompanied by a caregiver.
  • The social communication impairment, common in people with autism, acts as a barrier for them when they are in trouble in the water. They may find it difficult to near-impossible to ask for help, even if they know what steps to take next.

Teaching your child or adult loved one how to swim can quite literally save their lives. It can give them the skills they need to stay afloat long enough until help arrives.

There are many groups that offer learn-to-swim classes for people on the autism spectrum. These are organised by pools and autism groups and have programs that take into consideration the special requirements, strengths and challenges faced by people with autism and those on the spectrum.

  1. Swimming improves their motor functions, improving their quality of life

People on the autism spectrum tend to have lower muscle strength and endurance, compared to their non-autistic peers. Since swimming is a full-body exercise, it can be very helpful to people with autism, in developing muscular strength and endurance.

Additionally, the various strokes in swimming can improve the individual’s balance and hand-eye coordination. For kids and teens, this can be very helpful socially, as they now are better equipped to play with their peers, participate in school/university sports and move around with more freedom outside of the house.

  1. Swimming can help reduce the stress of sensory overload that people with autism often experience

People on the autism spectrum have more sensory sensitivity, which also lasts much longer, compared to their peers. Based on the nuances of their conditions, they may have mild to strong reactions to specific sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures. Pain, heat and cold may also feel different to them. This can feel very stressful for the person and the resultant stress and anxiety can be fatiguing and distracting.

In inground swimming pools Perth with controlled temperature and pressure, the feel of water on the body can have a soothing and cathartic effect on the person with autism. Their stress is more likely to reduce, allowing them to experience the swim session in greater comfort. The water can be stimulating to them, without overloading their sensory processing mechanism.

In fact, these days, many occupational therapists and physiotherapists use swimming and other aquatic activities to help support the developmental needs of autistic individuals.

  1. Swimming can help people with autism develop healthy social relationships

Children and adults with autism can find it harder to make friends or engage socially. This is predominantly due to the different ways in which they perceive the world and social situations.

When put into swimming classes, children with autism can learn how to play with kids their own age. They are more likely to mimic their peer’s speech patterns and are more likely to learn how to share toys, caregiver attention and other resources. These group swim classes can also be the foundation of lifelong friendships and can reduce any loneliness children – especially pre-teens and teens – may be experiencing.

Adults with autism can also find group swim sessions helpful. Any social anxiety or shyness they feel can be reduced, by repeatedly exposing them to this group setting. The non-judgemental atmosphere in these classes can also make them feel like they belong to a group – which can be very empowering and great for their psychological wellbeing.

  1. Swimming can improve their neural health

Swimming in a social setting also facilitates faster and stronger neurodevelopment. A person with autism needs to pay greater attention to their instructor, fellow swimmers and themselves. This can help increase their ability to focus, their attention span, their responsiveness to instructions and their alertness to danger in the water.

This cognitive and neural development can also benefit the individual in the classroom or at the office, allowing them to thrive.

  1. Swimming can improve their ability to speak and learn languages

People on the autism spectrum sometimes speak at a much-delayed timeline than their non-autistic peers. These days speech therapists are recommending swimming to help hasten their speech. The different breathing techniques used in swimming allow the child or adult to move important facial muscles, that also contribute to speech. Through consistent swimming, they may be able to develop the oral motor skills needed to speak sooner or regain their clear speech.

This ability to speak will also make your autistic loved one more confident and happier, opening many doors for them on the personal and professional front. Their increased self-esteem can give them the motivation they need to work towards managing their autism spectrum symptoms, to have a full life.

Build a safe fibreglass pool at home for your autistic loved one

Sometimes, it’s unfeasible or unsafe to take your loved one with autism to the local public pool. You will be making a wise and beneficial investment, by choosing to get your very own home pool installed.

At Factory Pools Perth, we have worked with families with varied medical and developmental requirements, helping them find the perfect pool that works for them. We can work with you to build a pool that is safe and comfortable for your loved one with autism, to use whenever they want to. Our team can put in place bars on the walls and accessible steps/ramps to get into and move around the pool safely. If you require any other accessibility features that are suitable for people on the autism spectrum, just let us know. We can do that for you.

So, give us a call or send us an email and we’ll come over to your property to discuss which fibreglass pool works best for you and can be done on a budget.