Learning How to Swim and Autism - Holly's Story

At Water Babies we believe all little ones have the right to learn a skill for life and everyone can learn to swim. 

In our lessons, we understand that every child progresses at their own development pace, and we support all of their unique needs to ensure they can build their water confidence safely and in their own time. 

This World Autism Day, Water Babies Teacher Holly shares her experience with teaching the little ones in her class who have additional needs, such as autism, and how she’s supported their baby swimming journey. 

Hi, I’m Holly! 

I’m Holly, and I’ve been a Water Babies teacher for 4 years, teaching in the Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire region. I’m also a qualified primary school teacher and I’ve achieved an additional qualification which covers different Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) and how best to support children.  

This is a topic which is really important to me, as both my children have additional needs. So, both my work and personal life is centralised around understanding and providing bespoke support to little ones so they can thrive. 

Why I love working at Water Babies 

I love the fact that parents allow us to be their babies first teacher, and we get to go on a journey with the children we teach from them being tiny babies, to them being confident 5-year-olds who love to swim. 

The journey isn’t always easy, each child is different. But there is nothing more magical than when that child trusts you, and when with your patience and nurturing, they manage to overcome their fears they may have and become water confident. 

Adapting lessons to support customers  

I teach nearly 300 customers every week, so there are many ways in which I adapt my lessons to suit their needs.  

This can include: 

  • Signing 
  • Using visuals 
  • Doing extra demonstrations for those that need explanations to be more visual 
  • Providing a child with an option of activities (if they need that choice) 
  • Changing the pace of the lesson to suit your swimmers 
  • Sourcing alternative floatation equipment for those that don’t like the texture of a woggle / bubba 
  • Providing sensory or flashing toys for those with no sight, but can see light 
  • Whispering songs to reduce noise and increase concentration 

The first step is to recognise when something isn’t working for a child, and not being afraid to change the activity to suit them. Most importantly, it’s identifying anything that may trigger a child to be overwhelmed in the pool and to do anything that comforts them. This could be ensuring they do a skill straight away which I know they like, such as the ‘Monkey, Monkey’ hold on skill, which becomes so important when planning lessons.  

Supporting little ones who have autism 

I have a group of swimmers with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who I send weekly, child friendly plans to entitled ‘next week in my lesson.’ It uses visuals to explain what we are doing and the parents then go through this with their child several times before the lesson, to help prepare them for the lesson. 

This has significantly increased their engagement and progress in lessons and is especially helpful to prepare them for any change.  

I also ensure I demonstrate everything a bit more, show them pictures of skills, and allow them an alternative option for an activity if I know it’s something they dislike. Some of the children I work with often don’t like being held or helped across the mat in the pool for example. So I will always ask before I help them with anything to ensure they understand what’s happening, and if they’re happy for me to help. 

I’ve also sourced alternative floatation equipment for those that don’t like the texture of the woggle, and recommend shallower pools where appropriate to allow them to be more independent.  

Advice for families who would love to start baby swimming lessons, but might need some additional support 

Do not be afraid to discuss your child’s needs with our wonderful office teams and teachers. We want our swimming lessons to be inclusive for all that swim with us and we’re here to help. 

As a company we teach so many little ones to swim (over 52,000 every week!) and as a team, we’re experienced in adapting what we teach to the children we have in front of us. If you speak to us about their exact needs before getting in the pool, we’re better placed to know what support to give. 

Most importantly, we want you to know that above all else, we want your child to learn to love the water like we do, and progress in their swimming lesson. That is always our top priority. With the right support there is no limit on what any child can achieve!  

Ready to start your baby swimming journey? Click below to find a class near you!