Swimming for Children with Sensory Challenges

by | Jul 25, 2019 | Occupational Therapy

Swimming is a fun activity that offers a number of different benefits for children, especially for those with sensory concerns.  It focuses on building strength and endurance as well as targets proprioceptive, tactile, vestibular, olfactory, and auditory systems.  However, pools can be overwhelming for those with sensory concerns. Below are some tips to help children with sensory challenges to become more comfortable with swimming. 

Bathtub and Getting Comfortable  

The size and noise of the pool can be overwhelming for kids with sensory challenges. It is often recommended to start adjusting to water in the bathtub. When transitioning to the pool it is recommended to take it slow and let the child take the lead in getting familiar with the pool. (Visual schedules can be incorporated for transitions if needed)

Heated and Non-chlorine Pools

A lot of times colder temperatures and the smell of chlorine can be overwhelming to those with tactile and olfactory sensitivities. Heated pools and salt water might be a better option for these children. 

Going to the Pool when it is Less Crowded 

Crowded pools might be an issue for those with sensory concerns thus attending at less crowded times is recommended. If receiving lessons, private lessons or smaller group sizes might be more suitable. 

Paying Attention to Behavior Signs

Children who experience sensory difficulties can have a hard time expressing how they feel. It is important to watch for any signs of distress, such as avoidant behaviors and physical reactions.  

Proper Equipment 

Depending on the child, proper attire can facilitate or hinder their experience with swimming. Below is a list of equipment that can be useful. 

  • Clothing:  Swim Caps, surfer suits, rash guards, swim shirts, full body swimsuits, water shoes or flips flops (massaging feet before stepping onto the pool surface to provide proprioceptive input might be helpful). 
  • Earplugs or Ear Band – Its: For loud noises or to prevent water from going in the ears. 
  • Goggles: To prevent water from splashing in the face and eyes as this can be an overwhelming sensation.
  • Sunscreen: Applying sunscreen can be challenging to those that don’t like being touched or are sensitive to smells. Sunscreen wipes or color fading sunscreen might be a better option. If the child is older you can have them apply sunscreen themselves. 

If you have any concerns about sensory processing or your child’s development.  Please contact TEAM 4 Kids to make an appointment at our Surprise or Peoria locations.

Egle Majute M.S., OTR/L