Bryony Johnstone from Water Babies Bath explains the benefits that swimming can offer to children with additional needs
Coming to terms with having a child with a learning delay, disability or disorder is tough, there’s no two ways about it. At Water Babies, we understand how significant it is to find an inclusive activity — and there’s none more inclusive than swimming.
“I came across Water Babies and I wondered whether we would be able to join one of the groups,” says Caroline, mum to Seb who has Down’s syndrome. “It sounds utterly ridiculous now, but I genuinely wasn’t sure if an instructor would be comfortable having us. I fired off an email and I remember the reply back – of course we could join Water Babies! The response was so ‘normal’ it really lifted me.”
For many parents like Caroline who find themselves on a parenting journey they hadn’t anticipated, adjusting their own expectations for their child can be very hard. Finding an activity that is truly inclusive can be a significant moment. Water is a great leveller. With the water supporting them, children with limited mobility can have the freedom to move more freely, allowing them, with the support of their parents and teacher, to take part in all the class activities.
That support is also key to helping children with low muscle tone or stiffness improve their strength, coordination, fitness and flexibility. Water is used in physiotherapy for exactly that reason. In babies, that free movement doesn’t just help physically, it also assists their growing brains make important connections, and that can help cognitively too.
Caroline Hardaker is a specialist Paediatric Physiotherapist who works with children with cerebral palsy. She emphasises the benefits of swimming. “It gives them the opportunity to strengthen muscles, increase range of movement, move the two sides of the body symmetrically and exercise the heart and lungs to a degree that may not be possible on land,” she explains.
Seb’s mum Caroline, agrees. “I remember chatting for ages on the phone and being told how Water Babies would benefit Seb. Babies with Downs syndrome often have very low muscle tone and lack core strength, so taking Seb to Water Babies would not only teach him life skills, but he would also be gaining strength too, which would complement his physiotherapy sessions.”
Swimming is a huge sensory experience – for some children, this is a benefit, for others, it can be a challenge. While we teach a couple of toddlers with ASD who love the sensation of having their ears under the water or the feeling of floating, others find the pool environment noisy and distressing.
However, Water Babies teachers are specially trained to work with parents and carers to make sure their children enjoy their session whatever their situation. Teaching in small, warm, private pools, we can carefully tailor the classes so that every little swimmer gets the full benefit of being in the water.
Swimming from an early age gives all children a life skill. It improve coordination, strength and fitness, it helps with learning, communication and social skills. It teaches potentially life-saving safety and confidence skills. Water Babies classes are tailored for every individual, and that’s wonderful for the children and their carers.
“Going to Water Babies classes was so much more than a swimming lesson,” says Caroline. “I happened to be with a really lovely group of mums, and by coincidence some of the other babies had health challenges too. These were all chance meetings, but it made me realise I wasn’t the only one on a new and unexpected path.”
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