Why Swimming Lessons are Critical for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

Why Swimming Lessons are Critical for Kids on the Autism Spectrum

- in Ages & Stages, Parenting, Special Needs
goldfish swim school in cleveland, ohio

Everybody in the pool! Yes, that really means everybody.

It is widely recognized that all kids need swim lessons. In fact, the American Red Cross says that the number one thing that parents can do to keep kids safer around water is to enroll them in swim lessons.

Researchers at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health recently conducted a study that concluded that children with autism are 160 times more likely to drown than the general pediatric population. The lead researcher stated, “Given the exceptionally heightened risk of drowning for children with autism, swimming classes should be the intervention of top priority.” (Source: MyAutism.Org)

Jocelyn Geib, Ph.D. CCC/SLP, is a licensed speech and language pathologist who provides consultation, assessment and treatment at KidsLink Neurobehavioral Center and The KidsLink School in Streetsboro, Ohio. She also serves as the executive director at The KidsLink School Program.

“Water and swimming safety are lifelong and critical skills for children on the autism spectrum. Safe and supportive lessons can help reduce the risk of accidental drowning—and bring about more joy, confidence, and motor coordination,” Geib says. “Swimming can offer improved coordination and strength and can even be therapeutic once a child is comfortable in the water. Swimming requires the use of energy which can in turn reduce tension and anxiety and promote body awareness. There can be many secondary gains as well, including improved attention and increased ability to follow directions. Swimming is also a lifelong social and recreational sport and provides an activity that children can do with their family and friends.”

The Goldfish Swim School team works with children on the autism spectrum every week in lessons. “We know that goals might be different for families of children with autism. Our team meets with parents to review the swimmer information sheet and make a customized plan that includes finding an instructor that is a good fit and the right lessons setting. We also utilize tools such as visual aids, a special abilities progress report and a “social story” that helps kids prepare for what their lesson experience is going to be like,” says owner Michael Morris.

Cleveland mom Kacie Buzzard is the mother of two daughters. Her 7-year-old daughter Caroline has severe non-verbal autism. Both of her children have been taking swim lessons at Goldfish Swim School for more than three years.

“The main goal was to focus on ensuring that Caroline could get to the side of the pool and get out safely,” Buzzard says.  “It gave us tremendous peace of mind to know that she had that basic ability to get herself out of a pool. The instructor also considered what was going to help Caroline process information better. Caroline hears and her receptive language is fine but the instructor used sign language to help reinforce the message. The instructor also laminated some visuals to help with communication.” 

“One day, I looked over and saw that Caroline was wearing goggles. She has sensory issues and this is something that she has never done before and the instructor got her to do it. To an autism parent, that is a huge accomplishment because she took direction and allowed something that is uncomfortable.”

Caroline continues to progress through her lessons. “Right now, she is working on perfecting her back stroke. She can tread water for over two minutes.” Buzzard says.

Geib encourages parents to seek out swim lessons for their children with autism. “Find a facility that will work with you to understand a child’s unique needs,” she says. “Patience, understanding and flexibility are important when teaching someone with special needs to swim, and when done correctly, the benefits can be tremendous.”


Michael Morris is a father of two and the owner of Goldfish Swim School. Goldfish Swim School has three Cleveland-area locations:  Goldfish Swim School Cleveland East Side, Goldfish Swim School Fairview Park and Goldfish Swim School Hudson. Goldfish Swim School provides swim instruction to children ages 4 months to 12 years in a unique setting with highly trained instructors, small class sizes (max 4:1 student-teacher ratio), shiver-free 90-degree pools, and a state-of-the-art water purification system. Visit goldfishswimschool.com for more information.

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