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One with the Water coaches continually research and study techniques to use during swimming lessons. We recently read an article that we found useful for modeling positive social behaviors in Autism Spectrum swimming lessons. This guide was written to improve the social inclusion of elementary school children with autism spectrum disorder through facilitated peer interactions. We found the guide to be informative, cutting edge, and most important, applicable to real-life situations. At One with the Water we provide swimming lessons to children on the Autism Spectrum as well as training them and taking them to local competitive swimming events.

In order to successfully implement the guide, it is important to determine the current state of peer engagement of the child. For example, when we start all of our swimming lessons, whether special needs or not, One with the Water instructors connect with the students to help them to feel secure and to let them know that we are present during their swimming lesson. We create a safe space in which the child will be able to learn easily without fear of embarrassment or physical harm. Most of the students on the Autism Spectrum have so much going on within themselves and the world’s endless distractions that it is important to always take few moments to connect with our students, bringing them into the present moment.

During our swim practice for our Special Needs Swim Team for Kids, we mix in 30 minutes of dry-land exercises that are great for strength, balance, spatial orientation and anatomical awareness. We are firm believers in the importance of this sort of “cross-training” for swimmers, and it’s not something most teams do until much later in life (and then it’s mostly focused on strength). Having a mix of dry-land and pool-based activity actually gives kids a better framework for understanding verbal swimming instructions. It also makes it easier to correct the “bad habits” and postural imbalances that often develop in swimmers.

The dry-land activities draw them in for direct joint social engagement, but if there are a few children feeling isolated or watching from a distance, or conducting parallel activities, then we create transitions to lure them into the group. It is important to engage the kids with their peers. After stretching and exercising, we take the kids on a two-lap run around the ball park and we ask them to think about with whom they might want their running partner to be that day.

Our coaches circulate through exercise circle while the kids are interacting and participating. We actively seek out the children that might be having difficulties and help them to feel comfortable by engaging in the activity with them. And of course, most important, our coaches model having fun by demonstrating the positive aspects of the exercises and interactions, and paying close attention the body language and facial expressions of the children.

About One with the Water

One with the Water offers competitive swim training and year-round swim instruction for children and adults with a wide variety of skill levels, from total beginner to competitive athlete. In addition to their national-level competitive swimming skills, One with the Water‘s instructors are trained to work with children and adults diagnosed with autism, Asperger’s, ADD, ADHD, sensory integration, anxiety, Down and CHARGE syndrome, auditory processing disorders and dyslexia and others. Founder and Head Coach Kenneth Rippetoe is certified by the American Swimming Coach Association Disability Level 3.

Since its founding in 2011, One with the Water has given out over $75,000 in scholarships to needy students and changed the lives of over 800 swimmers. One father – whose son is on the Autism Spectrum – reported that his son “really responded to [head Coach Kenneth Rippetoe], and looks forward to his class more than anything else right now. After the first class, he suddenly looked forward to and enjoyed swimming, as opposed to dreading it. He made huge strides, the biggest he has ever made, working with [One with the Water].”

Tax-deductible donations to the scholarship program of One with the Water, a 501(c)(3), can be made at the organization’s website:

Footnotes: The UCLA Autism Intervention Research Network – Behavioral Health (AIR-B) recently published Remaking Recess, a guide to improve the social inclusion of elementary school children with autism spectrum disorder through facilitated peer interactions. Remaking Recess is an intervention that focuses on increasing social engagement between children with autism (ages 5-11 years old) and their typical peers during the less structured times of the school day.

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