So you’ve decided to literally and figuratively take the plunge, and get your child with special needs swim lessons! But how do you know what to look for in order to find a quality swim program? As a special education teacher, and former lifeguard and swim instructor, I am here with some tips in identifying a quality swim program.
- Decide what you are willing to pay, how often you would like your child to receive lessons, and what your specific goals and needs are for your child. Knowing specifically what you want and need will help you identify the type of program that is right for you.
- Start with word of mouth references! Ask your friends and family where they go, what they like and dislike about the program, etc. Your local community center, YMCA, JCC, or other organizations, specifically those serving children with disabilities are also good places to start looking. Many large private gyms have pools and offer lessons, they are a good place to search as well.
- Ask if you may observe some lessons. A quality program will allow you to observe individual and group classes and a variety of swim instructors so that you may find a style that suits your needs. Observe the lifeguards and other adults on the pool deck. Do they have their cell phones near them/seem distracted? Or are the lifeguards focused on the safety of everyone? Look around and make sure there are no obvious hazards or exits that remain open and unguarded.
- Meet with the program director and ask specific questions related to the goals and objectives you came up with in step 1. Ask specific questions about programs for children with special needs or if instructors have experience with/are willing to work with children with special needs.
- Be flexible and understanding! Your first couple of lessons might not be smooth. It will take some time for your child to adjust – and that’s ok! It’s crucial that all adults remain calm and positive. The water and pool environment can be overwhelming at times; the importance of patience cannot be overstated!
A final tip – don’t dismiss group lessons! Many parents of children with special needs automatically want their child to do private swim lessons, without ever really considering a small group environment. Depending on your goals and the needs of your child, group lessons and the socialization and peer interactions that come with that, could be immensely powerful to your child.
Rachel Davis currently lives in Tampa, Florida where she gets to be surrounded by water every day. Rachel is a middle school special education teacher in an inner city school in Tampa, her educational philosophy consists of educating the whole child and using their exceptionalities, cultural, and linguistic differences as strengths. She will be beginning graduate school in the fall. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org