How to teach kids with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and other special needs to swim – Quickly and safely

If you're a parent with a child who is easily overstimulated, struggles to interpret, comprehend, and/or follow directions, or generally requires an extended learning period to pick up new skills - This blog is dedicated to you.


Every child deserves to learn to swim, but the water provides many other benefits for kids living with ASD or struggling with other sensory issues and special needs.


For example, submerging in water provides gentle pressure and calming sensations that relax the nervous system. It can also help children develop sensory processing skills and reach new physical milestones too. 


But, it's hard to find an experienced coach or swim school that can provide the right learning environment for your child.


Most coaches don't have the experience or interest in working with kids with different special needs. And even if they do, chances are the learning environment isn't suitable for your child.


In this article I’m going to show you:

  1. The issues traditional swimming lessons present for these children and the barriers they create to learning
  2. How and why Swim Discovery™ is the great equalizer! 


Let’s start with the issues normal swimming lessons present and how they’re likely to create barriers to your child’s learning. 


Swim lesson environments are almost always overstimulating:

  • Many other children making loud noises: crying, screaming, yelling, and laughing

  • Many other children splashing, swimming, and/or goofing off

  • A lot of people in general – parents and kids coming and going


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Swim lessons aren't designed for how kids learn best, especially not kids with ASD, sensory processing, or special needs.

  • You'll hand your child over to a new instructor/person/stranger
  • Constant hands-on support/touching from an initially unfamiliar coach
  • Learning relies on coach instruction and student interpretation/comprehension
  • Short learning periods, most swim lessons are only 30 minutes long and are shared by multiple kids


These are just standard parts of any swimming lesson, and they create barriers to learning for all kids. And they’re especially detrimental for children who already have a hard time interpreting and comprehending directions - and processes that can easily overwhelm any child prone to overstimulation. 


And lastly, when your child needs a calmer and slower-paced learning environment, swim lessons just can't cut it.

Swim Discovery™ is the great equalizer! It removes all barriers, increases the rate of learning and overall enjoyment in the process


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How does Swim Discovery™ work?

Swim Discovery™ is an entirely different learning process than how kids learn to swim in swimming lessons. In Swim Discovery™, we give kids the freedom to move and play safely in the water, and they discover how to swim for themselves – without a coach.


We give kids the freedom to move and play safely by zipping them into a life jacket designed specifically for helping kids learn to swim. This isn't any old life jacket – the Progressive Training Aid life jacket from TYR is designed with 8 removable pieces of flotation foam. This is key.


At some point, a full-flotation life jacket is going to offer your child too much support – it'll keep them safe in the water, but it will completely stall their learning too. With the TYR Progressive Training Aid, we can remove 1 or 2 pieces of flotation foam every time your child becomes strong enough to rely more on their own skills. This keeps progress moving forward until your child is strong and skilled enough to swim without it. 


With Swim Discovery™, Learning unfolds spontaneously from within your child as they move, interact, and experience the water. 


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How to get started

FOR NOW - all you need to do is take your kids to the pool. The water is a world-class swim coach for kids – and it's the only coach they need. When kids get in the water, they naturally want to move and play – And it's impossible to move and play in the water without figuring out how to swim.

When kids aren't moving in a way that works for swimming, the water will let them know – they'll either move slowly through the water or won't move at all. Kids pick up on this cause-and-effect relationship instantly and automatically start making adjustments to move better – so they can play better and have more fun!

For example, if your child wants to play with their favorite swim toy that's floated away, they're going to try to swim after it and retrieve it. If they can't swim after it fast enough or at all, they will spontaneously change how they're trying to swim so they can. It's really that simple.

Once your child figures out how to move better, they're going to keep moving better. And then they're going to start swimming all over the pool for more extended periods without taking breaks – and naturally developing greater strength and endurance. And that's when we can begin removing flotation.



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Swim Discovery™ removes learning barriers that exist in swimming lessons. 

In Swim Discovery™, your child's learning hinges on interacting and experiencing the water – NOT on taking directions from a coach! This is how Swim Discovery™ completely removes your child's current ability to interpret and comprehend instructions from their learning equation.


Because you do Swim Discovery™ at home in your own backyard or community pool:

  • You're able to provide a consistent and familiar learning environment
  • You can control for and eliminate the over-stimulating environment or things that create overwhelm
  • You don't need to hand your child over to an unfamiliar stranger

Because your child is discovering how to swim for themselves – wearing a life jacket:


  • They don't need to have someone unfamiliar holding on to them the entire time to keep them safe
  • They can instantly feel supported and confident enough to swim around the pool and have fun
  • You can interact and play with your child without worrying about their safety or holding them the entire time
  • And most importantly, their current ability to interpret and comprehend instructions doesn't influence their learning

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Swim Discovery™ is the great equalizer! And you can do it for FREE in your own backyard or community pool.

With the information shared here and our other free resources on our blog, YouTube pages, and Podcast, you have everything you need. 

But you don't have to do it alone

If you want someone to walk with you every step of the way, become a member at SwimAble Kid for only $20.00 a month. Here's some of the fantastic value our SwimAble Kid Members get:

  • Exclusive access to Jim and Jeff through a Members-only group
  • Zoom/phone support with Jim and/or Jeff as needed
  • Guidance on when to remove flotation and how much to remove so you never have to guess
  • Access to a 60-second virtual swim test, which allows us to personalize your entire experience and send tips and help explicitly designed for what your child needs when they need it
  • A new game delivered to your inbox every week. Our games are designed around "Purposeful Play," and they'll help your child build essential swimming skills like paddle swimming, treading water, swimming with objects, jumping in, going underwater, holding their breath, and more.

Our goal is to make learning how to swim easy and affordable for all families, and we hope you'll become part of the SwimAble family.

If you need even more of a reason to give Swim Discovery™ a try -- check out our blog: “5 Freedoms of Swim Discovery


Check out our SwimAble Kid, Swim Discovery™ program to see how your child can learn to swim for only $20 a month!