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How to teach your autistic child to swim

Swimming lessons for autistic children: How you can teach

Updated: March 13, 2024 · 6 Minute Read

Cindi Green, Autism Swim Trainer and Consultant

Reviewed by:

Cindi Green, Autism Swim Trainer and Consultant


  • Teaching autistic kids to swim can keep them safe around water and help prevent accidents or drowning.
  • Swimming is a fun activity that can help improve sensory integration, fitness, and self-confidence!
  • Visual cues and social stories can help kids with autism understand what to expect and how to perform specific swim movements.
  • Many parents may choose to enroll their child in swim lessons for extra support.

Swimming lessons for autistic children: Why it’s important to teach your child to swim

Did you know that accidental drowning is the second leading cause of death for children ages 5–14 and the number one cause of death for kids with autism? When we recognize many autistic children’s strong attraction to water and the high incidents of wandering, it’s easy to see why this is the case.


While there are many benefits to teaching your autistic child to swim, safety is number one.


You should be sure to teach your autistic kiddo these two important rules of water safety before even hopping in the water.

  1. Always wait for permission before entering the water.
  2. Always swim with another person.


Teaching your autistic child to swim can empower them with water safety skills and lower the risk of accidents and drowning.


The benefits of swimming for kids with autism

While safety is always the top priority, swimming offers many benefits for kids on the autism spectrum including:



Basic tips to help your autistic child learn how to swim

Every child is different and you’ll have to adjust your teaching approach to match the needs of your child. However, here are some basic tips to keep in mind:

  • Teach your child where they’re at: This simply means to take a look at what your child can already do and start teaching from there.
  • Choose the right environment: Finding the right environment can make a big difference. Look for a pool that offers a calm and controlled setting, with minimal distractions. Autistic kiddos may be sensitive to noise or crowded spaces. A quiet pool or one with designated quiet times might be ideal.
  • Safety first: Safety is crucial when teaching anyone to swim. Stay within arms reach of your child at all times even if that means getting in the pool with them. Consider using flotation devices or life jackets for added security. You can gradually reduce dependence on these aids as their swimming skills improve.
  • Gradual exposure: Some autistic kids may be nervous about getting into the water. Take it slow and start by introducing your child to water in a non-threatening way. For example, allow them to sit on the edge of the pool and dangle their feet. Or let them play with water toys while sitting by the poolside.
  • Sensory considerations: Sensory sensitivities are common among autistic children. Some children might be sensitive to water temperature. Others may find certain textures uncomfortable. Adjust the water temperature (if you can), and use swimwear that provides a snug and comfortable fit.
  • Break it down: Break swimming skills into small, manageable steps. Start with basic water exploration. Once they get used to the water you can introduce things like blowing bubbles, floating, and kicking. Celebrate small victories along the way to boost confidence and motivation.
  • Visual cues and social stories: Many autistic children respond well to visual cues and social stories. Use pictures, drawings, or videos to illustrate different swimming techniques. Create social stories that depict the step-by-step process of learning to swim. This can help them understand what to expect and how to perform specific swim movements.
  • Incorporate special interests: Linking your child’s interests to swimming can make the experience more engaging and enjoyable. For example, if they have a favorite animal, encourage them to imitate the movements of that animal in the water.
  • Patience and flexibility: Teaching autistic kids to swim requires patience and flexibility. Each child is unique and will progress at their own pace. Some swimmers may seek out the water and immediately want to splash and play. Others may resist the water completely. Be prepared to adapt to your child’s needs. Remember that building trust and creating a positive and supportive environment is key!
  • Swim fully clothed: This may sound strange, but it is an important one. It’s important that your child has a few swim lessons fully clothed. This will help them in the event of an accident. Most accidents happen while fully clothed, so it is very important that a child learn how to swim with the extra weight of wet clothes too.
  • Be prepared to get in: You are the person they trust the most in this world and being in a large pool can feel unsettling, even to those who love the water. Getting in the water with your child can help them feel more at ease.
  • Have fun! Above all, make sure swimming remains a fun and enjoyable experience. Incorporate games, music, or water toys to add an element of playfulness. When swimming is fun, they’ll be more motivated to continue learning and improving their skills.


Enrolling your child in swim lessons

Following our tips is a great way to help your child learn to swim, but you don’t have to do this alone. Many parents choose to enroll their children in swim lessons too. Swim lessons can help relieve your stress and may even help your child learn to swim faster.


Some things to look for when selecting a swim program for your child include:

  • Class size: You want to select a program that fits your child’s needs. Does your child need private lessons or would they prefer a group class? Consider looking for a program that offers both so you have the option to switch if you need to. If you choose group classes look for a program with small class sizes.
  • Class time: It is also important that you choose a program that matches your schedule. You’ll want to choose a program that offers a variety of class times that fit into your busy schedule.
  • A well-trained swim instructor: Teaching a child with special needs can require different strategies than teaching a neurotypical child. Make sure you choose a program with swim instructors trained to teach children on the autism spectrum.
  • Open communication: You want to choose a program and an instructor that welcomes open communication with parents. Instructors should provide you with regular updates on your child’s progress and tips on how you can help your child improve at home. Also, you should always be able to observe your child during lessons.
  • Adaptive swim programs: Depending on your child’s needs you may want to consider enrolling them in an adaptive swim program, versus a traditional swim program. Adaptive swim programs are specifically for children and adults with special needs. These programs are taught by instructors trained to teach kids with special needs how to swim.


Are swim lessons expensive?

The price of swim lessons can vary depending on where you live and what sort of program you decide to enroll your child in. A group lesson at a public pool may cost as little as $10 per lesson while a one-on-one lesson at a private pool may cost upwards of $100 per lesson.


Community centers often offer discounts to local residents, and most YMCAs offer sliding-scale fees based on your family’s household income. If you have more than one child, many swim programs offer discounts for enrolling siblings together.


How to find swim lessons for your child

To help you find qualified swim instructors and swim programs for your child you may want to:

  • Look for a swim school that is a member of the United States Swim School Association (USSSA). USSSA offers courses that teach swim instructors how to teach swimmers with special needs. You can search for schools right on their website.
  • Talk to your child’s occupational therapist. They may be able to recommend local swim programs for your child.
  • Search the Beaming Health directory for swim schools in your area!



Teaching autistic kids to swim is an amazing way to help them grow and have fun. You can make swimming an exciting and beneficial activity for your child by understanding their needs, creating a supportive environment, and using strategies tailored to them.

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Article References

  1. Williams, A. Why Swimming and Water Play Benefit Kids with ASD. LEARN Behavioral. Published July 20, 2021. Accessed June 21, 2023.–