The Swim Professor

Jim Reiser, M.S.

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Swimming Lessons and Autism Spectrum Disorder

Jim Reiser, M.S., The Swim Professor
Vi Hendley, M.Ed., Autism Resource Specialist

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism is a life-long developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. It is thought to be the result of a neurological disorder that affects functioning of the brain.

Symptoms & Characteristics can include:

  • Lack or delay in speech
  • Fascination with objects rather than people
  • Repetitive use of language
  • Odd or repetitive body movements or mannerisms (e.g., hand-flapping, twirling objects)
  • Resistance to physical contact
  • Decreased empathy
  • Little or no eye contact
  • Lack of interest in peer relationships
  • Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play

Having ASD makes it exceptionally difficult for individuals to communicate with others and relate to the outside world.

Autism is currently our nation’s most prevalent childhood developmental disorder. Recent studies from the Centers for Disease Control show that as many as one in 166 children born today are on the autism spectrum.

Is ASD Treatable?

ASD is treatable. Children do not “outgrow” ASD, but studies show that early diagnosis and intervention lead to significantly improved outcomes.

Introduction to Teaching Children with ASD

Children with autism are being turned down by the dozen in cities across America just like yours. Not because swim teachers don’t want to help, but because most swimming instructors don’t feel like they have the knowledge necessary to teach these special children successfully–and most of them don’t.

I recently teamed up with Vi Hendley, who brings in 28 years of teaching experience with individuals who have Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). In addition to some of the Success Strategies that we will share with you in this article, we a DVD called TEACHING CHILDREN WITH AUSTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER that you can order, which will afford you with the background and strategies you need to be successful, and so that you can leave your mark on a child that could change his life forever.



Review Parent/Provider Checklist Before Your First Class

Before you starting teaching a child with ASD, it is absolutely imperative that you have an understanding your student’s individual needs. To do this, take these three steps:

STEP #1:

Require the parent to complete the Student Learning Assessment
of the child’s individual needs. (You can purchase the form we use for just $5.00 on our website at

STEP #2:

Prior the first class—Review the Students Learning Assessment.


Make any necessary adaptations based on the Student Learning Assessment!

In our instructional DVD for swim teachers, Teaching Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, you can see real examples of how the Student Learning Assessment can help you.


Determine if You Have Enough Rapport

How do you do this? First, this may depend on the level of the ASD. If your student is high functioning, you can likely build rapport fairly easily by simply talking about his special interests.

In the DVD video, you can see howI learned from the assessment my student’s mother completed for me that he loved to pretend about SHARKS AND JELLY FISH. So before we even got in the water, I was able to develop a rapport with Phillip by talking about the sharks and jellyfish.

And he could hardly wait get in the pool and start pretending.


Implement the Exaggerated Affect

Kids with ASD characteristically have difficulty reading the facial expressions of others. So another strategy that’s proven to be effective is to exaggerate your facial expression. You can do this when giving instructions and most importantly when giving feedback.


Show it EXACTLY the Right Way—NEVER the Wrong Way

If you’re familiar with “The Swim Professor’s” Teach Like a Pro DVD, one of the techniques you can us so effectively when teaching young children to swim is the “Right way vs. the wrong way” technique. When your teaching children with ASD, however, it’s really best to avoid this technique.

One characteristic of children with ASD is they tend to pick up on irrelevant details. So you even have to be extra careful when demonstrating the right way that everything you show your students is precisely what you want them to do.


Use Visual Supports

In one ear and out the other, out of sight is out of mind. Because students with autism have difficulty with retaining auditory information, these old sayings are so true for children with ASD. And because children with ASD tend to be visual learners, it is so important to have your rules, techniques, and expectations in a visual format.

I was amazed at how effective these Visual Support cards were from the first time I saw Vi use them. On our DVD program, you can see how the children zero in on these. In fact, I like them so much, I asked Vi to pick her favorite cards and make them available for you. So if you would like to have your own personal set of Vi’s laminated visual supports, you can order them right on our website at

If you would like to learn more SUCCESS STRATEGIES for Teaching Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, you can order the brand new instructional DVD at

I hope some of the ideas that Vi and I shared with you today will help you be more effective and most importantly, make your classes more enjoyable for both you and your students.

April 8, 2009 at 11:32 am
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