Many children with autism have trouble communicating with and making friends with their peers. Often, certain sports like swimming and martial arts are great ways for them to be around their peers without having the pressure to communicate.
Swimming has other great benefits, too. First, it is a life-saving skill for a population of children who are at a particularly high risk of drowning. Some children with autism have a tendency to wander and a fascination with water. This combination is very dangerous and contributes to the high rate of drowning with this population. Often, it is during an “elopement” that a child with autism will find themselves in danger. They wander to a local pond or neighborhood pool, as this article from the National Autism Association chronicles, and in an effort to play in the water they sometimes fall in and can’t get out. When a child with autism can swim, they have an invaluable way to protect themselves.
Second, swimming is a fun way for kids with autism to get in much-needed exercise while also addressing problem areas that may be connected to their autism, such as motor skill deficiencies or sensory processing disorder.
Of course, those are all reasons parents will love swimming for their child with autism. But why will your child love it? Here are a few reasons.
Alleviates sensory issues. Often, children with autism have sensory processing disorders. They can become easily overwhelmed by what is going on around them. This article from About.com notes that one reason swimming is appealing to kids with autism could be its ability to dull certain assaults on the senses. For example, being underwater dampens sound.
Helps reduce repetitive behaviors. As this piece from SuperSwimmersFoundation.org explains, the sensory issues mentioned above can lead children with autism to develop repetitive behaviors that help them manage their sensory problems. A professor interviewed in the article points out that because swimming involves repetitive motion it offers children with autism the same release through a more productive method.
Relieves stress. One reason swimming is great for everyone is that it is an excellent cardio exercise that is easy on the body. As this great comprehensive guide on the benefits of aquatic therapy for children with autism notes, low impact movement can calm a child’s muscles and in turn work to relieve stress.
Builds self-confidence. Learning a new skill can provide a confidence boost for any child and that holds true when it comes to autistic children and swimming. This article from the Washington Post chronicles the success a boy with autism had with swimming. In it, one of the autism experts interviewed says one reason she supports the parents’ decision to involve their child in competitive swimming is its self-confidence building payoff.
Swimming can pay huge dividends for children with autism. It’s a life-saving skill; it helps them get exercise so that they can be healthy and strong; and best of all, it’s something many children with autism truly love.
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Vee Cecil is a wellness coach, personal trainer, and bootcamp instructor who lives in Kentucky with her family. Vee is passionate about studying and sharing her findings in wellness through her recently-launched blog.
Photo credit Lars Plougmann via Flickr