Can you use your NDIS funds for swimming lessons?
Occasionally, the NDIS will fund swimming lessons in their entirety. However, as swimming lessons are deemed necessary for all children (not just those with a disability), the NDIS will most commonly fund the difference in cost between a group and a 1:1 lesson, if it can be justified as to why the individual needs 1:1 support in the water. Your Occupational Therapist and/or Behaviour Specialist can help with this justification.
When we contacted the NDIS about this, requesting clear guidelines, we received the following reply:
“Where it can be demonstrated that individual lessons are required as a direct result of the person’s disability and the intention is to build an entry level of proficiency, the NDIS may consider funding the gap between group lessons and individual lessons.
NDIS support funding is based on an individual’s reasonable and necessary support needs and the inclusion of funding for swimming lessons will, therefore, be assessed on an individual basis. The circumstances of each request are likely to be different, and as a result, the decision may differ from case to case.
Some considerations will include:
a. the participant’s goals and what they hope to achieve through swimming lessons;
b. whether there is a different way to meet that need or goal that may be more effective or represent better value for money;
c. the functional impact of the person’s disability; and
d. the other supports included in the participant’s plan.”
Swim resources and programs focus on four core areas:
1. Water Safety
2. Water Therapy
1. WATER SAFETY
Many individuals with ASD have difficulties perceiving danger and risk, which is exacerbated if they also have an intellectual disability. There is a need for targeted 1:1 safety skills to take place for your swimmer, such as floating on his/her back, and learning to hold onto the side of the pool. This may be the priority over ‘swimming lessons’ per se.
Remember, 90% of deaths in children with ASD is attributed to drowning, so your child is considered high risk. Learning Water Safety Skills is a non-negotiable for children on the spectrum.
2. WATER THERAPY
With 84% of individuals with ASD exhibiting anxiety, water therapy is a huge component of our lessons. Until such time that the swimmer is feeling relaxed and calm, their ability to process information is going to be limited. Water therapy allows the opportunity for sensory relief prior to programmatic elements being delivered. It plays a vital role in the life of someone with ASD.
A large suit of research exists in support of swimming for individuals with ASD (including a recent study which concludes that swimming increases communication skills in individuals with ASD). Please let us know if you require any supporting evidence for your NDIS meeting by way of journal articles.
Why is swimming so beneficial for swimmers with ASD?
- Swimming can fulfil sensory needs in a low stimulation environment.
- The repetitive nature of swimming can have therapeutic benefits.
- Gross Motor output – an outcome of swimming – is an essential self-regulation tool for individuals with ASD.
- Swimming lessons and aquatics programs in general aim to increase an individual’s level of safety in aquatics environments through teaching specific relevant skills and instilling confidence in the swimmer. These are potentially life-saving skills.
- Frequent swimming often results in increased coordination, mobility and balance.
- Swimming generates opportunities for further cognitive benefits (including increased communication skills) through skill development.
- Swimming results in increased fitness, joint stability and muscle strength and tone.
- Swimming can assist in training an individual in body sensation, body awareness, joint position, spatial awareness and posture control.
- Swimming provides a social outlet. Although 1:1 lessons are always recommended, to begin with the goal is to very slowly transition the swimmer to tolerate and enjoy time spent with another swimmer or swimmers. This process is guided by Autism Swim, only when certain proficiencies have been mastered.
- It’s fun!
Individuals with ASD often have difficulties with the Generalisation of skills. This means that they may have learnt how to swim and identify risks in one environment (such as a pool), however may not be able to apply these skills to other environments (such as the beach), or with other people than whom they normally execute that skill with (Swimming Instructor for instance).
A robust Aquatics Program will include opportunities for the participant to learn skills across multiple environments (such as nippers, learn to surf etc).
In addition to the above, the following might also be helpful in ascertaining the goals and direction for your swimmer’s Aquatics Program:
5. ADJUNCT TO THERAPY
Many families receive a home therapy program from their Therapists (such as Speech Pathologists, Occupational Therapists and Personal Trainers); particularly if the participant has received limited therapy hours.
The participant’s 1:1 Aquatics Program can be used adjunct to therapy, for a range of identified skill development goals (e.g. if smoothness of speech is an issue, this is underpinned by breath control, which is supported by doing activities such as blowing bubbles etc.).
6. LEARNING TO LEARN
If the participant lacks the precursory skills for participating in a class such as tolerating distraction, taking turns, auditory processing issues etc. (all common in individuals with ASD), then their 1:1 Aquatics Program can be used to embed these foundational skills, with the ultimate goal for some individuals, being to transition to a small group size.
7. COMMUNITY INCLUSION AND SOCIAL PARTICIPATION
Where the goal for the participant is to successfully attend small group lessons, Community Inclusion and Social Participation are incredibly pertinent areas.
Autism Swim always recommends starting with 1:1 lessons, particularly for the foundational skills mentioned in point 6; however, for some, small group lessons with others are a relevant goal.
8. PERSONAL TRAINING
Some Swimming Instructors also have their certificate 3 or 4 in Personal Training. As a result, the participant’s support falling under the Personal Training line item may be an option; particularly if the pool is attached to other fitness facilities (such as a gym).
9. EXERCISE PHYSIOLOGY
Exercise Physiologists may be able to run the participant’s Aquatics Program under their Exercise Physiology line item.
We have heard of circumstances whereby the NDIS will fund a Support Worker in the water with a group lesson rather than funding a 1:1 lesson. The problems with this are that:
a) Often this just adds more stimulation to the lesson, and for many of our participants, is counterproductive; and
b) The worker’s skill sets, water proficiencies and support methodologies may not be conducive to the water environment.
This will really depend on your swimmer as we know there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach.
Be sure to talk to your Planner about the fact that your child’s lessons are provided by an Autism Swim Approved Instructor, as it means they have undertaken additional training to become more specialised.
If your child’s swimming instructor is not currently AS-Approved, please direct them to this link for more information. It is essential your child’s instructor understands the complexities surrounding ASD, and is equipped with the necessary training and resources to most effectively teach your child. Remember, Autism Swim is the peak body in Australia for swimming and water safety for those with ASD; we’re here to help!
We know that being able to swim is not a guarantee against drowning. Proficient swimmers drown too. Be sure to also add in our Wandering and Drowning Prevention Toolkit to your plan, to ensure you are doing EVERYTHING you can in keeping your little one safe.