Advice to help my autistic son with swimming


I have two sons who are autistic. My eldest son is 10 and is finding swimming lessons very stressful at the moment. He has a diagnosis of high functioning moderate autism and he has a lot of processing difficulties. 

We have tried other clubs (beavers, football, chess, pottery) all of which he found extremely stressfull so I stopped sending him. We have told him however that swimming is for safety so he has to learn to swim. 

He hasn’t had lessons (apart from school) for some time so we’ve put him in to one to one lessons. It is just him, his brother and sister each with a teacher in the pool and me watching. It is much quieter and calmer than his old lessons but he is still getting stressed about going.

I’d love to hear from others in the autistic community who have had similar experiences either with swimming or other activities that are stressful for them, and find out what they found helped them to cope better. What can I do as a parent to make him feel better about it? 

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  • Here are a few things I found when learning to swim that might also be affecting your son;

    The main thing that made me quit swimming lessons (though I would still swim in an informal environment and became a fairly adept self-taught swimmer) was that I struggled understanding the teacher due to the sound disturbances that came with using the pool. 
    A. The voice of the teacher was distorted and echoed by the tiled walls/floor and the water's surface, rendering it very hard to distinguish and understand. 
    B. The splashing of the water around me and noise of other people using the pool further prevented me from hearing instructions (I am very sensitive to sound, so even if it wasn't even audible to the other children the splashes, plops and drips would absolutely drive me bonkers. I also lack the ability to filter relevant sounds from background noise).
    C. The teacher would often issue instructions from a distance, being outside the pool, which didn't help with the filtering aspect
    This basically rendered every swimming lesson a frustrating battle to understand and apply what I was being asked to do. I could just about manage it through the basic lessons, but when I advanced to a class taught by a teacher with a noticeable accent it became too difficult to the point that every instruction was literally incomprehensible.

    Also, I have always absolutely loathed the feeling of water in my ears. I end up acting like a cat with a flea in its ear, literally thrashing my head about because the sensation is so unbearable. I now use earplugs or my waterproof MP3 player when swimming and am perfectly fine.
    I also use a noseplug and goggles because I hate water in my nose and eyes too. This also helps avoid problems with the feeling of pressure being uncomfortable in my case, which was mentioned as a possible issue by Graham.

    Oh, speaking of goggles, chlorine might be an issue too. I was always very sensitive to it in my eyes and the smell isn't pleasant either (smells are another of my sensory hypersensitivities). 

    You might think from reading this that swimming just isn't for me, but as long as everything's plugged up I do love it! It's my main and favourite form of exercise. :D I especially love swimming in the open sea- no chlorine, the salt makes me pleasingly buoyant and the sound of actual waves is quite pleasant! It's just unfortunate that you have to suffer the pool to get there...