Drowning is the number one cause of accidental death in children under five, with swimming pools the most common location for toddler drownings.
Learn2Swim Week is a national awareness campaign which aims to give every child in Australia and New Zealand the chance to learn to swim and to show parents/carers the importance of water safety. Drowning is the number one cause of accidental death in children under five, with swimming pools the most common location for toddler drownings.
Thanks to Poolwerx and KidsAlive, Aquatic Centres across Australia and New Zealand are offering families a FREE swimming lesson which focuses on basic water safety skills for children under 5 for the week 25th September – 4th October. Parents and learn-to-swim program coordinators can learn more here: https://learn2swimweek.com/about/
Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are 160x more likely to drown, subsequent to wandering, than their typically developing peers. While regular attendance at swimming lessons is known to be an important factor in improving water safety skills, 91% of parents in the Autism Swim community have left other aquatic services due to them not understanding or accommodating their child’s needs.
This year, lets promote inclusion during Learn2Swim Week. You can do your part by following these top 10 tips:
1. Create Inclusive and Sensory Friendly Environments
Individuals with ASD may experience sensory input in their environments differently to other swimming participants. For example, brightly lit environments or environments with lots of background noise and/or unexpected sounds (e.g. whistles) may be overwhelming or cause the participant to be distracted or uncomfortable during their lesson. Overcome this during Learn2Swim Week and beyond by introducing sensory friendly times and/or sensory friendly zones during swimming programs.
When considering whether your aquatic environment is inclusive, you may also consider:
- Can individuals that have different accessibility needs enter via the same entrance (e.g. can someone in a wheelchair access the main entrance)
- Can individuals that have different accessibility needs enter the pool safely and with dignity? (e.g. can someone in a wheelchair enter the pool using a hoist via a ramp?).
- Is there accessible parking on the premises or nearby?
- Is there an accessible toilet that can be accessed?
- Is the space quiet enough to carry a conversation?
- Is the environment set up so everyone can see each other?
- Is the environment cluttered?
- Do you have a priority entry to reduce wait times for individuals with sensory and/or behaviour support needs?
2. Acknowledge the Parent/Carer’s Expertise
Each and every person in your program will have different wants, needs, likes and dislikes. It is important to understand these prior to your lessons so that you are prepared with appropriate supports. It is important to include the person with a disability and their support networks in the problem-solving process to identify strategies that work best for everyone. Avoid making decisions for your participants without their input or input from a parent or caregiver.
Autism Swim recommends using a thorough enrolment form completed by a participant and/or their parent/carer which asks about sensory, communication, behaviour support needs and individual goals. It is important to note that not all participants will have a goal to learn to swim. They may also be attending the program to develop self-regulation, motor skills, communication skills, social participation or to develop water safety behaviours. Autism Swim Approved Providers can find enrolment form templates in their Year 1 Welcome Pack!
Communication Books and Swim Diaries can also help to track progress towards goals while promoting consistent and open communication between parents and swimming instructors: https://autismswim.com.au/product/swim-diary/
3. Include Wandering and Drowning Prevention Education in your Program.
Accidental drowning accounted for approximately 90% of total deaths reported in children with ASD aged 14 and younger, subsequent to wandering between 2009 and 2011. Almost half (48%) of children with ASD attempt to wander from a safe environment, a rate nearly four times their unaffected siblings. What’s more, is that wandering in or around water is the second most dangerous place to be found wandering. Second only to wandering in or around traffic.
As aquatic professionals it is integral to be educating and empowering parents, carers and support networks on the risks and strategies to better support individuals with ASD and other abilities to be safer in our community. Autism Swim’s Wandering and Drowning Prevention Toolkit provides strategies for parents/carers and community supports to better prepare, respond and prevent wandering for individuals with ASD and other abilities. Purchase the toolkit here: https://autismswim.com.au/product/wandering-drowning-prevention-toolkit/
4. Become Autism Swim Approved!
Every organisation can provide staff training to assist in creating a more inclusive workplace. The more educated we are on disabilities as a society, the less stigma and assumptions will be made. Organisations such as Autism Swim provide education to aquatic providers on how to increase inclusion and how to best support individuals with other abilities.You can register to become Autism Swim Approved today. Click Here for more information: https://autismswim.com.au/aquatic-professional/
Learn more about becoming Autism Swim Approved (video) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=laCrChz0cx4
5. Prepare Participants for new or unfamiliar experiences
Many individuals with ASD and other abilities require additional time to prepare themselves for new, unfamiliar or challenging tasks. If they are new to the aquatic program, or routines are changing, you can help by providing resources (e.g. a Social Story and/or other visual supports) prior to and during the program which help to describe expected behaviours and upcoming activities.Autism Swim Approved Providers can access a social story for going swimming, and many other swimming related activities in their monthly resource packs.
Not ready to become Autism Swim Approved? Purchase some social story check-lists for new skills here: – https://autismswim.com.au/product/social-story-check-lists-for-skills/
6. Diversify your communication styles
Individuals in your program may have better retention of visual information over auditory information. When overloaded with auditory information (e.g. verbal instructions, background noise, unexpected sounds) it can be difficult to stay calm and follow instructions during aquatic programs.
Autism Swim recommends using a combination of verbal, visual and physical modelling of instructions and feedback to facilitate success for all participants in your program. Autism Swim Approved Providers can access visual cue cards for many common learn to swim and water therapy activities in their monthly resource packs.
Not ready to become Autism Swim Approved? You can purchase these here: https://autismswim.com.au/product/visuals/
7. Use Water Therapy Principles to improve outcomes
Water therapy activities help individuals to become more regulated. Regulation of energy levels and emotions underpins all learning and participation. Autism Swim Approved Providers receive extensive training in sensory processing and water therapy principles. We use sensory circuits, preparatory activities and sensory breaks during aquatic programs to support participants to be ready to learn and to develop skills for self-regulation.
Not ready to become Autism Swim Approved? Access some water therapy activity ideas here:
- Emotions Fish Scale: https://autismswim.com.au/product/emotions-fish-scale/
- Water Creature Sensory Activities: https://autismswim.com.au/product/sensory-activities-water-creatures/
- 14 ways to calm a dysregulated swimmer: https://autismswim.com.au/product/14-ways-to-calm-a-dysregulated-swimmer/
8. Use positive person first languageWe always want to highlight the person prior to the disability and to use terminology that is inclusive. Outdated language includes terms such as: ‘disabled person’. Instead we wish to use terms such as ‘a person living with a disability’ or ‘individual with other abilities’.
Another example of outdated language includes: ‘suffering from’. Instead we want to use terms such as ‘this individual experiences __’.
You can learn more about Autism Swim’s ASD Language Guidelines here: https://autismswim.com.au/product/asd-language-guidelines/
9. Incorporate Water Safety Activities
Although many individuals with ASD have had swimming lessons and developed swimming skills in the past, they may experience difficulties in using these skills across different environments (e.g. a different pool or lake). Generalisation of skills needs to be taught from the very first lesson when developing a new skill.
It is also recommended that swimmers be exposed to a number of different aquatic environments to improve familiarity and generalisation of skills.
10. Educate yourself and your team to identify and respond to seizure activity.
Individuals with ASD often have comorbidities such as epilepsy. If an individual is identified as having seizure activity, it is important to have a seizure management plan and appropriate staff training in place.
When seizures happen in water, this can be life threatening.
Would you like more information? Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Become Autism Swim Approved Here: https://autismswim.com.au/aquatic-professional/