Swimming is a beneficial sport for children with autism, which is why several Valley swim schools have added programs especially for kids with autism and/or other special needs.
Swimming is an individual sport that offers “360 degrees of physical stimulation,” says Bob Hubbard, co-founder of Hubbard Family Swim School, which offers a STARFSCH special needs program at its north Phoenix location. Being in the water gives kids with special needs “independence and confidence,” he adds, urging parents to “be open to your child’s ability in new experiences.”
Swimming forces the left and right sides of the brain to work together, preparing a child’s brain to learn, says Lana Whitehead, owner of SwimKids USA in Mesa, which offers swim lessons for children with a variety of special needs. “Swimming is helping these children physically, mentally and even emotionally, because they have a sense of belonging in a group.”
Scottsdale-based Kidtastics’ is working to incorporate iPads into a swim program for children with autism. Autistic kids are visual learners and rely heavily on routines, says Laurie Ball, co-owner. iPads (in waterproof cases) will be used to customize schedules with pictures of each student.
“Right now we have a laminated schedule on the side of the pool with a picture of a boy getting in the water, but it’s falling apart [from being wet],” says Ball. The iPads will allow a picture of the child to appear next to his or her specific schedule. (You can participate in an iPad fundraiser at kidtastics.com/ipads-for-autism.)
Autism is a neurobiological disorder that can interfere with a child’s behavior and interactions with others, according to Phoenix-based Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center.