Springtime Safety Series Part 3: Time to Swim


As we’ve been talking about, the spring and summer seasons present new sets of safety challenges for children.  Among other things, we are outside more, water is around more, and frequently there is less structure than usual.  So, in order to help keep children safe around water, I recommend that we put some structure in place that will create a routine for safely being around water to prevent them hopping in without an adult around.

Now, PLEASE, don’t put all your water safety eggs in this basket…BUT my hope is that by creating some hoops for the kids to jump through before they get in the water, we will be laying groundwork that will prevent kids just jumping into the water unsupervised.  For more ideas on water safety, check out this helpful info from the American Academy of Pediatrics.  Let me also say, it would be a beyond fabulous idea for you to find some really high quality swimming lessons for your child.  In Dallas, I can think of a couple of locations known to be fantastic with children with special needs.  Contact me for references.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you probably know that I’m a big, big fan of using functional activity routines.  Creating a functional activity routine allows you to put in place and practice a routine during play which will teach your child a set of steps/behaviors which will facilitate better functioning during a real life event.  For example, at Halloween time, I recommended using a functional activity routine to teach trick-or-treating.  To help with travel, we created a functional activity routine for making it through the airport.

Building a Routine:

Creating a routine for safe swimming will put in place a set of mutual expectations for both the adults and the child by creating a checklist of sorts for things we do before getting in the water.  When creating new routines, consistency and repetition are key, so you’ll want to create materials that officially document the process to your child; it’ll be “the rule book.”  However, please keep in mind that just because you do all the steps perfectly on your side, using your visual schedule for the routine won’t make your child respond perfectly the first time.  A routine isn’t a routine until you’ve done it a few times.  Making a new routine for your child is a PROCESS.

In general, this is the process I follow in building a routine for use with young children with ASD:

  1. Draft the steps in the routine.  (me)
  2. Create a visual schedule for the routine.  (me)
  3. Introduce the routine. (me and the kiddo in a quiet, engaged time of play)
  4. Practice the routine in scaffolded pretend play. (me and the kiddo in a slightly more structured setting)
  5. Generalization–Use the visual support in a real-life setting.  (me and the kiddo in the place “where it happens”)

Now, let’s put this into practice as it applies to swimming.

Routine: Safe Swimming

Step 1: Draft the Routine

As it applies to swimming, for purposes of our discussion, I thought it best to make the routine general enough that the steps will apply whether you are at a ocean, lake, river, or swimming pool.  In order to do this, I am going to create the term: “swimming place” and then define a swimming place as being a pool, lake, or beach.  If you’d prefer to be specific for your child’s own situation, go for it!  Regardless, we need to be very specific about the steps a child must take before they get into the water.  Here’s my example:

  1. Swimsuit on
  2. Go to swimming place: Pool, Lake, Ocean
  3. Sunscreen on body; sunscreen on face
  4. Wait for grown up
  5. Grown up in water         Time to Swim

Step 2: Create a visual schedule

Adding visual supports to this routine will improve your child’s comprehension, facilitate joint attention, and offer your child additional communication opportunities using new vocabulary words.  The added bonus of creating a visual support for a schedule is that it “keeps you honest”;  if it’s written down, you as the adult are less likely to inadvertently skip steps or change your language.  Remember that ultimately, you will be bringing your visual support around water, so I’d also take the time to laminate your visual support.  This example visual support (Time to Swim Vis Sched) was created using Boardmaker Online, but you could also use another program like lessonpix to create your own support.

Steps 3 and 4: Introduce and Practice the routine

You know that old cliché, “practice makes perfect”?  Well, it’s a cliché because it’s true.  Practice and repetition are absolutely the keys to facilitating success.

The way we bridge children from presentation of a set of steps to real life is through play.  Because pretend play is frequently difficult for children with characteristics of ASD, they need a little more support thinking through actions and words associated with a given activity.  That’s where our handy dandy visual support comes in, well, handy!  So, here it is again: Time to Swim Vis Sched.

Depending on your child’s level of play development, you could initiate the functional activity routine in one of two ways: actions directed to an object, or actions directed to self.  In less technical terms, you could act out the routine on a toy like a doll or stuffed animal (actions directed to object); or you and your child could pretend to go swimming (actions directed to self).  Either way, begin the activity by reading through the steps together sharing your visual support. This is the Introduce the Routine step. Then, I would say something like, “now it’s time to play.  Let’s get ready to swim.”  Be sure to use the word, “play,” here so that it’ll be easier for your child to distinguish when they are about to pretend about swimming and when they are actually GOING swimming.  Also, be sure to use words like “first, next,” and “then” to facilitate the concept of sequencing.  Try to use the core vocabulary words that you’ll naturally use as you get your child ready to swim.  Now, go step by step.  If you’re using a doll, “read” a step, then have the doll perform that action.  You can take turns with your child going through the steps and leading the activity.  Once you feel your child “has it,” it’s time to move to the Generalization Stage.

Step 5: Generalization

It’s time to swim!  When it is time to start getting ready, I would use the phrase “it’s time to get ready to swim.”  Then, present the visual support you two have been using together.  Talk your child through each step referring to the visual support consistently throughout.  Use your support as if it is a crucial part of the activity, your guidebook, so to speak.  Until you are absolutely certain your child has internalized the process without the support, bring it with you EVERY TIME.  I would plan to use the support a MINIMUM of five times, and then keep it posted in your child’s room and/or in your car and/or in your swimming bag, so that he/she can refer to the support frequently.

Step 6: HAVE FUN!!!!  

I hope this activity have made for a happier and safer swimming experience for you and your family!  Make a splash out there, you guys!

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