Navigating swim lessons for kids with and without disabilities

For many adults, happy memories of their childhood summers consist of spending long days at the pool, or taking family trips to the beach or lake. Swimming is not only an important life skill, but also a lifelong sport and recreational activity central to family gatherings.

However, families of children with disabilities tend to experience more challenges learning to swim and finding adequate swim lessons for their children. This is problematic since children with disabilities are at a higher risk of drowning, when compared to their typically developing peers. Additionally, there are numerous physical, social and emotional aspects of swimming that promote children’s development, making swimming a great activity for all kids. This article offers the ins and outs of navigating swimming and swim lessons. While examples of children with disabilities are provided here, these solutions apply to all children. What works for children with disabilities, works for all children.


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  • educate recreation staff on the needs of your child
  • make swimming fun
  • remember that safety comes first
  • use swim gear at home

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  • underestimate the importance of visiting your pool before the first lesson
  • forget to go potty
  • ignore your breathing
  • overlook the need to start early

[publishpress_authors_data]'s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do educate recreation staff on the needs of your child

Local pools are required by the Americans with Disabilities Act to be accessible. Whether your child has a physical or cognitive disability, pools must be welcoming and accessible environments. Educating staff of your child’s needs will increase awareness and inclusion for all children. For example, some children with autism can be very sensitive to noise. By talking with the pool lifeguards to suggest alternative ways to redirect your children, you can help staff understand the needs of your child and increase safety around the pool.

Do make swimming fun

This may seem obvious, but it is one of the most important things you can do for your child. If you have enrolled your child in lessons and are able to visit the pool before beginning, try and play at the pool so children will associate fun with the water. Children should not see swimming as a work activity. Furthermore, the more comfortable children are in and around water, the smoother lessons will go. If a child becomes distressed during lessons, consider bringing some of the child’s favorite activities to play outside of the water, so he or she can associate the pool with fun activities.

Try using songs with your children, especially young ones. Visit, a great website containing a number of songs that can be used to teach swim skills.

Do remember that safety comes first

Use consistent phrases, words and visuals when teaching your child smart safety around water. Consider starting each swim session with the same routine, such as beginning lessons with the rules, followed by a song. Rules should be posted in and around the pool. Instructors can start each lesson with, “teacher first,” emphasizing that children must wait for their instructors.

Safety is critical as some children’s love for water can cause them to be at risk for drowning. For example, some children will jump into the water without knowing how to swim. Consequently, initially teaching good habits will prevent this from happening.

Do use swim gear at home

For children who are sensitive to changes or new things, consider trying equipment at home, such as in the bathtub. Some children do not like anything on their face, so putting their head underwater and opening their eyes can be a challenge. Try having your child wear goggles in the bathtub. Because goggles can feel uncomfortable, children can experience wearing them before lessons, which will make lessons go smoother.

[publishpress_authors_data]'s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not underestimate the importance of visiting your pool before the first lesson

Familiarize your child with the pool. If you have access to the pool where your lessons will be taught, go there before lessons begin. Show your child the entrance, locker rooms and the deep end. Additionally, this is an opportunity to discuss the rules. If your child struggles with transitions and new things, take pictures of the pool and show them to your child as a visual support.

Do not forget to go potty

Many children arrive at swim lessons very excited. Ten minutes into their lessons, it is common for them to need to get out and go to the bathroom. To avoid accidents in and around the pool, make sure your child goes potty first. Because defecation in the water will cause the pool to shut down, be sure to show your children the locker rooms. Keep in mind that many pools have family locker rooms where caregivers can assist their children.

Do not ignore your breathing

This is often the most difficult and important step to learning to swim. Before children can learn to swim, they must learn to hold their breaths and breathe efficiently. Otherwise, children will swallow or choke on water–or will be inefficient swimmers. Consider using items, such as a ping pong ball that floats on top of the water, that your child must blow while in the water. This is another activity that children can practice at home, in the bathtub and with straws in their milk.

Do not overlook the need to start early

The earlier children learn to swim, the more successful they will be. If fact, the earlier children learn to have a good association with water, the better. Learning to swim is like learning a language; the earlier you begin, the more natural it will be.

Remember that most children don’t learn to swim independently until the age of five or six. Focus your first child’s first few years on enjoying the water and learning safety rules. Your children can learn skills that will help them swim later on. It is important to remember that once a skill is learned, it can be difficult to break. This makes it important for your child to learn the correct way to swim on the first try.


Swimming is a great physical and social activity that promotes health and wellness for all individuals. The key to having successful swim lessons is preparing your child for expectations and the environment, as well as making the experience enjoyable.

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