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Swim for Life - Teaching Swimming to Students with Physical Disabilities

written by: Anne Vize • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 1/5/2012

Swimming is one of those great activities for children with physical disabilities - the combination of a weightless sensation with the ability to move easily and freely is liberating and exciting. It also has great health benefits for people with physical disabilities.

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    Teaching swimming must be done by a qualified instructor, regardless of whether it is being taught in a school swimming program or as part of an out of school experience or summer camp program. Qualifications will vary for teaching swimming depending on where you are based, and the requirements of the relevant swimming authority.

    Teaching swimming needs an instructor with skills in the basic swimming strokes, as well as lifesaving and lesson planning. Someone who is teaching swimming must also be able to plan, assess and evaluate their teaching and their students' learning.

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    Swim Lesson Plan

    A typical swimming lesson for people with physical disabilities may look like this:

    1. Safe entries into the water (may need a hoist, lift, supported entry down a ramp).
    2. Greeting song and introductions.
    3. Specific instructions for helpers in the water, so they can help with activities for children with physical disabilities in a planned and structured way.
    4. Information for people with disabilities in the class, particularly if they are swimming for the first time with you.
    5. Group activities for people with physical disabilities which take their needs into account (eg. rolling front to back, learning to maintain body position, being comfortable using an aid to float).
    6. Individual activities which are designed as an exercise for people with a disability, such as push off from the wall and float into a glide position, or doing a safe slide into the pool, or learning to propel in the water wearing a life jacket.
    7. Social skills activity such as a group song (Hokey Pokey) or game (What's the time Mr Wolf?).
    8. Goodbye song.
    9. Safe exit from the pool.
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    Why Should I Be Teaching Swimming to Children wIth Physical Disabilities?

    Teaching swimming is one of a group of activities for children with physical disabilities that should be a high priority on the health and physical education program in special schools. It promotes benefits such as:

    • aerobic fitness
    • increased muscle strength
    • increased flexibility
    • spatial and body awareness
    • group participation and social skills
    • gross motor coordination and control
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    Why is Exercise Important for People with Physical Disabilities?

    Exercise for children with physical disabilities is vital as it greatly improves quality of life and physical health parameters such as those outlined above. It means people with physical disabilities are more likely to:

    • maintain a healthy body weight
    • be able to maintain independent movement skills in the water and on land
    • have the skills to join in group activities
    • have long term cardiopulmonary benefits (healthy heart and lungs)

    Exercise for children with physical disabilities also means they are less likely to have problems with high blood pressure, arthritis, decreased flexibility, obesity and depression. Of course, all this does not take into account the specific health situation of individual people with a physical disability; nor does it account for the quality of the skills of the instructor teaching swimming, or the frequency or quality of the activities for children with physical disabilities, all of which would vary the benefits obtained from swimming. Remember - quality and frequency count!