Archive | Being Active with Special Needs

Swimming Lessons for Special Needs Children

Swimming LessonsAt my house, we love swimming lessons in the summer! My five year-old daughter told me that her favorite part of summer is going to swimming lessons every day (we really just do about 6 weeks of lessons, 5 days a week). For my 9 year-old son with autism (Paul), swimming lessons can also provide good therapy for him.

I love swimming lessons as a mom because it adds so much structure to our day, and my kids do so much better with structure. I like to have a very structured morning with everyone going on a bike ride, completing chores, practicing, reading, and then swimming lessons right before lunch. Swimming lessons wear my kids out and then we have a fairly calm afternoon.

Swimming has so many benefits, especially for sensory kids. Here are just a few of the benefits of swimming:

  • Provides excellent proprioceptive input. (Swimming is hard work—resistance for the entire body.)
  • Reduces hyperactivity.
  • Strengthens muscles.
  • Increases attention span.
  • Improves gross motor skills and coordination.
  • Increases confidence.

For my son Paul, who struggles with a lot of sensory issues, swimming does so much for him. He also loves to swim; he loves the feel of the water on his body. We are hoping he can eventually learn the strokes well enough that he might be able to join a swim team at some point (if he wants to). Swimming is a great individual sport and could provide an extracurricular sport that is also therapeutic for him.

Sometimes it is hard to find the right fit for swimming lessons so that your child can receive the greatest benefit. When you have a child with special needs, it is important to really think about how their specific disabilities may affect them in the pool.

The first thing to address when trying to find the right fit for swimming lessons, is to decide what your goal is for the lessons. If your goal is to provide a social experience and get some exercise, you just need to find a pool with a positive reputation. If you really want your child to learn the strokes correctly, you might want to do some extra research to find a program that will really meet your goals and the special needs of your child. If you have a child with autism, I found this website extremely helpful and informative.

The second thing to think about is whether you should put your child in private or group lessons. I strongly recommend private swimming lessons if your child struggles with a severe fear of water, body awareness, motor planning, auditory processing, hearing loss, or seizures. You also need to think about if you need a professional swim instructor who has experience working with children with special needs. If you have a child who is high functioning, they might be fine in a group lesson taught at a city recreation pool.

After a lot of private swimming lessons, we tried group lessons for Paul at the end of the summer a couple of years ago. It provided another positive social experience for Paul, but it did not help him become a better swimmer. The teacher could not spend enough time with him individually to really help him understand how to do the strokes correctly. His lack of body awareness (understanding where your body is in space) was very evident in watching him try to do the strokes. He has a hard time integrating breathing with the motion of the arms and legs. Also, because Paul struggles with auditory processing, the noise and splashing of the other kids made it difficult for him to process all the instructions in the noisy pool. Paul also frequently requires more explanation than his peers to understand what he is supposed to do, so it just wasn’t a good fit to have him in a group lesson.

One thing to really check into is if a pool in your area has an Adaptive Aquatics program. We were so lucky to find an Adaptive Aquatics program about 15 minutes from our house. Adaptive Aquatics provides swimming lessons for children with special needs. At the pool we go to, Adaptive Aquatics provides private lessons for the same price as a regular group swimming lesson. That way, Paul can have the private swimming lessons that he needs, and all of my other kids can be in swimming lessons at the same time. It has worked out so well for my entire family! Many communities have swimming programs for children with special needs—it is definitely worth checking out.

If you have a child who is very afraid of the water, my personal feeling is that you NEED to get them into swimming lessons as soon as you can. It is important for every child to understand how to be safe in the water and to be comfortable in the water. The only way to overcome a fear is to address it. You have to be slow and systematic as you desensitize fear. It also has to be a very positive, nurturing environment to be able work through a fear. Sometimes the progress is very slow. Start with just getting the toes wet. Whenever we have tried to help Paul through something he is terribly afraid of, it is amazing how it increases his confidence when he is able to work through his fears.

We have seen a lot of progress in the last few years with Paul’s ability to swim. He is enjoying it more and is feeling more confident in the water every year.

Internet Resources for Swimming Lessons for Children with Special Needs:


10 Ways to Gear up for Summer with Special Needs Children

SummerWhen you have children with special needs, summer can be extra stressful. During the school year, the school day provides a lot of the structure and routine that so many special needs children crave. But during the summer, we as parents are responsible for creating and maintaining the schedule that will help our children function at their best all day. We also have to anticipate how our children will transition to summer because it is such a major change in routine when school gets out.

Last summer, I decided to gear up for summer by doing a few things that would reduce stress throughout the summer. Here is my top ten list for gearing up for summer when you have special needs children.

  1. Decide that this will be the summer when you and your children will THRIVE. Sometimes we just have to change how we think about things. Whenever I get myself into the rut of thinking that I am just in survival mode (and sometimes with good reason), I find that I am giving myself permission to be on the brink of losing it. I am just one meltdown away from being pushed over the edge. But when I am trying to thrive in the situation I am in, just that mental shift works wonders with how I approach difficult situations.
  2. Stock your freezer. Mealtimes can be some of the most stressful times of the day, so do everything you can to make it less stressful. Double or triple your meals during the month of May and freeze the extra portions. You’ll be surprised how quickly you will have a stockpile in your freezer without a lot of extra work. Freezer meals also cut down on dinner cleanup time. I also like to precook and freeze all the meat I might need for recipes, it saves so much time. I have even started freezing things for breakfast. Pancakes and banana bread freeze great, and then you don’t start the day with such a mess in your kitchen.
  3. Decide how much structure you will have in your day. Many special needs kids need a lot of structure to thrive. But for me, it can be hard as the parent to provide as much structure as my kids really need. If I try to create too much structure, it is hard to be consistent. If I don’t create enough structure, my kids struggle more with what to expect each day and we have more meltdowns. Decide how you will balance these two needs. At my house, I keep our mornings very structured, but the afternoons are pretty carefree. I also post a schedule of our morning routine in the kitchen so my children know what the expectations are.
  4. Get the help lined up that you need to keep your child progressing. Decide if you can give your child all the help they need to keep progressing (academically, socially, physically) or if you need to enlist the help of others. Sometimes it is hard as a parent to be the caretaker, the therapist, and the tutor 24 hours a day. The first summer we hired someone to help my son with autism, I felt like such a burden had been lifted! I have also used volunteers from my church to help me with some occupational therapy activities. Sometimes you can even find college students who need experience working with special needs children.
  5. Start taking good care of yourself now so you’ll be in a good place for summer. We all know that an empty well cannot give water to anyone. Similarly, a stressed out mom who is at the end of her rope doesn’t have anything left to give to her family. If you find yourself battling fatigue, start getting more sleep and exercise now. I recently watched this video online, and it really hit home to me. I have to take better care of myself so I have the energy to be patient with all of my children the entire day. When I consistently get sleep and exercise, I am a better mom.
  6. Find programs in your area for special needs children. Do some online research to find programs that will help your kids with their specific disabilities. Some autism groups in the community have summer field trips. Local CHADD websites often have information on summer programs for children with ADHD.  Some Recreation Centers provide Adaptive Aquatics, a program offering private swimming lessons for children with special needs at the same price as a group lesson. In addition to programs for special needs children, there are great programs for all children during the summer. Summer Movie Clubhouse has weekly movies for $1 (only $5 for all 10 movies!). Kids Bowl Free has information on free summer bowing.
  7. Decide what your family screen time policy will be. Decide in advance how much time your child will be allowed to spend watching TV, playing on the iPad, playing on the computer, etc. Having a policy in advance can reduce the number of arguments about screen time. I have found that my children behave much worse if I let them have too much screen time. Last summer, I let them each pick one 30 minute show and they rarely pushed for more because they already knew the expectation. Also, decide if you will let them earn extra screen time and what they have to complete before they can have any screen time.
  8. Figure out what life skills you want them to learn this summer. Summer can be a great time to teach some of those life skills that you don’t always have time to incorporate during the school year. The thing I worry about the most with my special needs children, is if they will be able to function well as independent adults. The more life skills I work on with them now, the better they will do in the future. Some ideas for life skills are: doing laundry, tying shoes, managing money, cooking, cleaning, combing their own hair, etc.
  9. Make a plan for helping your children stay active. We all feel better when we are staying active. I think this applies even more for children with special needs. Think about what physical needs or coordination areas your child might need to work on, and brainstorm ways to address that in a fun way. One of my children has very tight hamstrings and low muscle tone. We are incorporating stretching and muscle strengthening activities. We also love swimming lessons, riding bikes to the park or elementary school, and walking the dog.
  10. Honestly evaluate how your summer went last year. Think about what went really well last summer and what did not work. Did you have enough structure? Were you running around too much? Did you feel stressed out all the time? What was the hardest part of the summer? What was the best part? When I did this a year ago, I realized that the hardest part of summer was usually the week before school started. I was feeling burned out, my children were anxious for school to start, and honestly, I think they were ready for the structure that school provides. So we planned a short vacation for the week before school started. It was the best August we have ever had and I will always try to incorporate a short vacation right before school starts.

Getting Out with the ENTIRE Family….A True Miracle!

DSC_1308 When we moved back to the mountains, I had wonderful visions of introducing skiing to my kids.  My parents taught me to ski and I was excited to do the same with my kids.

I could just see all of us skiing happily down the mountain…my kids being the amazing 2 year old and 4 year old who flew past the adults with control and finesse.  It turns out, that’s all they were…visions.  I guess they were probably more like nightmares.  Both of them crying for one reason or another.  Both of them wanting to go home after 15 minutes of being in their skis.  One of them wetting their pants (with snow pants on…always fun.)  The other one flopped like a jelly fish on the ground, licking the snow as tears ran down his face.

The first two years of skiing went that way, until we discovered that we had them both in the wrong sport.  Turns out they LOVE snowboarding.  Who knew all I needed to do was switch what was on their feet?!

Well, over the Christmas break, we decided to introduce skiing to our younger two boys, something I’d avoided for years.  Thankfully, Park City Mountain Resort has a FREE magic carpet.  (I’ve decided that FREE is the best way to introduce something to my kids in case the experience is a bomb.)  Additionally, the parking is right next to the magic carpet, so if my kids decided to leave after 15 minutes, no big deal.  Not to mention, my sweet boy with epilepsy has moods that are unpredictable thanks to the seizure medications….okay, MORE unpredictable than a regular 5 year old.  So, there was a bit of dread in my heart.  (As you can tell, my expectations were pretty low!)

I spent the morning skiing with my older two kids, which I loved.  We met my husband, my younger boys and my siblings and their kids around 1 p.m. at the magic carpet for the “You WILL have a good time no matter what!” part of the day.

We strapped the skis onto our two youngest and off they went.  They LOVED it!  My older two spent the entire afternoon helping the younger two and helping their cousins.  It was a legitimately fun family experience (not just one that makes for a good picture.)

DSC_1252 DSC_1273

No meltdowns either, unless you count the fit David had because he didn’t have any poles to use.  I eventually gave him mine.  Oh, and the fits that both the younger boys had when we insisted over and over that they snowplow and make some turns in order to keep their speed under control.  I can handle those fits!

DSC_1311After only a couple of tries, Tyler and I stood at the bottom of the magic carpet just to make sure the boys stopped without running over anyone and to help them avoid running into the netting.  (OOPS!)

The last fit of the day was because they didn’t want to leave!  LOVE IT!  We stayed until they turned off the magic carpet.  Everyone fell asleep in the car on the way home after eating oranges.  (It doesn’t count as skiing unless you eat oranges on the way home in the car.  Just ask my grandma!)

I declare the first ever Entire Family Skiing/Snowboarding Together a huge success!


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