The Benefits of Swimming Beyond the Pool

Need a fun activity this summer? Who wants to jump into a cool pool on a hot summer day? Your child  does! Cool down this summer and discover the therapeutic benefits of swimming while your child is  playing in the pool! Since a child’s occupation is learning through play, providing your child with aquatic  play can be both fun and therapeutic! 

The therapeutic benefits of the water are tremendous, as every muscle in the body is used when  swimming. When immersed in the water, our bodies get a feeling that imitates weightlessness. Not only  does swimming encourage motor planning, sequencing, and coordination, it also provides both  proprioceptive and calming input, regulating their sensory system. 

Here are just a few of the sensory motor therapeutic benefits of swimming: 

Sensory input to the entire body: When immersed in the water, the water is touching all areas  of the body. As your child moves their arms and legs to swim, they are receiving immediate  feedback from the water that is moving around them, which helps create body awareness.  

Improved motor planning and coordination: In order to learn how to swim or navigate through  the water, it requires your child’s bilateral coordinated movements of both the arms and the  legs, as well as their trunk. This will provide your child with a new found confidence in the  water. 

Muscle strengthening without the impact of gravity: The weightlessness and elasticity of the  water can help facilitate movement by making your child’s body feel lighter. The water helps to  absorb some of your child’s body weight and helps the body figure out how to move in different  patterns. The resistance of the water provides more of a “natural” weight when strengthening  the muscles. 

Creating a Safe Zone: When immersed under the water, your child’s body is feeling a lot more  pressure than it does in the air. The constant pressure the body is receiving from the water, it  can provide a calming input. Your child may feel as if they are in their “safe zone” where they do  not feel the weight of their body, and can just be in the water. Depending on the temperature of  the water can also have a significant impact on relaxing the body’s muscles.  

5 fun ways to incorporate therapeutic swimming activities in the pool: 

Pool Noodle Ball Toss: Bend the pool noodle into a “U” shape that your child can sit on, just as if  they would sit on a swing. Engage in a ball toss that encourages your child to maintain their  balance while sitting on the pool noodle.  

Pool Noodle Pull: Hold one end of a pool noodle and have your child hold the other end, pulling  them around the pool in all different ways. Alternate your speed by pulling them fast, and then  adjust to a slower pace. Pull your child with the noodle around the pool once while they are  laying on their tummy, and then again while they are laying on their back.   

Use a large raft/pool float as a “pretend boat”: Your child can sit on top of the raft/pool float  while holding a paddle with both hands, pretending that he is on a kayak. The work your child is  doing while alternating the paddle across his body targets crossing midline and bilateral  coordination (using both arms together to engage in a functional task).

Use swim fins to incorporate resistance to strengthen muscles: Pretend that your child is on a  scuba scavenger treasure hunt. Drop “hidden treasures” on the bottom of the pool for your  child to search for. Have them place the hidden treasures back in the treasure chest on one side  of the pool so that they have to swim back to it every time. Adding swim fins is a great way to  strengthen and exercise those muscles. 

Create a pool obstacle course: Have your child engage in kickboard activities to strength their  arms, legs and core. Then, have your child fill up a big bucket of water that is sitting on the edge  of the opposite side of the pool. Next, have your child put on articles of clothing, such as a shirt  or socks, while wet. Swimming with the added weight of wet clothes provides the child with  proprioceptive input.  

Always remember, SAFETY FIRST: 

Constant Supervision: Designate an adult to watch the child in the water. It is important to  devote your attention to your child while in or near the water. If a child is missing, check the  water first.  

Alarms: Be sure that all doors and windows leading to the pool are locked and alarmed. These  alarms will alert you that someone has opened/closed a door or window or is by the pool area. Be cautious of your doggy doors too! 

Pool Fences: If possible, install a 4-sided pool fence with a self-locking gate. Avoid leaving patio  furniture that can be used as a ladder to climb over the fence. 

Bright Colors: Dress your child in bright contrasting colors for easy spotting in case of an  emergency. It is much more visible to spot out a child in neon colors such as orange, yellow, red  compared to lighter colors such as gray and white. 

Avoid Wearing Flotation Devices: In the pool, avoid putting your child in flotation devices, and  instead hold your child if they are not independently skilled in swimming. This will allow them to  learn that they need an adult with them to safely go into the pool and navigate the water.  

Learn CPR: If there is an emergency, it is crucial for caregivers and families are prepared.  Learning how to perform CPR can help you become more prepared in an emergency situation  and it is important to renew those skills on a daily basis.  

By: Caitlyn Buckley, OTS 

References therapy-for-those-with-asd-other-abilities/