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autism-swim-lessons-cute-kittenAt One with the Water we believe that people should continuously challenge the status quo. Being at one with the water is not a life or death matter, it’s much more important than that! We create miracles in the lives of children and adults, including those with special needs, by providing autism lessons in Los Angeles and empowering our clients. We focus on helping swimmers, no matter their abilities, to become more efficient and, as we like to say, at One with the Water.

One of our swimmers, Tessa, a 15 year-old girl with autism, with about 9 years of swimming experience, recently made her high school swim team and competes in U.S. Paralympics events. As a result of her autism, it is sometimes difficult for her to understand why different races require different pacing. She swims the 400 meter freestyle at the same stroke rate as 50 and 100 meter races, which puts her at a disadvantage. At the June 6, 2015, U.S. Paralympics swim meet held at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, she swam freestyle, breaststroke, backstroke, and butterfly events. In her classification, she placed first in the 100 meter freestyle race!

After training with the Tempo Trainer for just two months Tessa had these wonderful swim results:

  • 400m Free – Best time by 15 seconds! And her 1st 50 split was a best time by 4 seconds.
  • 100m Free – Best time by 5 seconds!
  • 200m Free – First time to swim it, her 1st 50 was a best time by 4 seconds from two days before, and her 100 split was a best time by 8 seconds!
  • 50m Back – A best time by 13 seconds!

When providing autism swim lessons, it is important to remember that everything must be done one step at a time and to practice that one step until it is completely mastered; giving a child with autism multiple things to work on, like tempo and proper freestyle pulling, isn’t going to help them learn either skill efficiently and can take up to 4 times longer to master. Working only on stroke rate until the skill is mastered, allows for sufficient processing time.

Abstract concepts like slow, medium and fast are very difficult to understand for most swimmers with autism. We needed a visual teaching method in order to teach the concept of speed and stroke rate. In order to assist this swimmer, we purchased the FINIS, Inc. Tempo Trainer Pro. By using the Tempo Trainer, we showed her the number, 80 for example, a reasonable stroke rate for a 400+ meter event, and let her hear the beep at that rate.

Her dad came up with a way to assist her in understanding how to move her arms to that beep, using a version of the hand slap game. You know the game that one person puts their hands upside down and the other player puts their hands on top? The hands on the bottom have to try to slap the hands on the top before the person moves them. This was quite effective for several reasons. First, when we teach freestyle to kids with special needs, we ask that they give us a “high five” in the water to require their arms to recover above water, avoiding doggie-paddle, and second, it is a very visual way to learn that the hands must move with the beep.

Why the Next 10 Years of Autism Swim Lessons Will Smash the Last 10

Starting at an easy pace of 75 strokes per minute and then increasing the speed in small, easily noticeable increments to 85, and going back and forth between the two, allowed her to learn each pace. Once she mastered that, we increased the pace to 80, 90 and 100 strokes per minute. We labelled each pace in writing, giving her a visual cue. This helped her to understand the slow, medium and fast stroke rate. We will now teach her the appropriate stroke rate for a 50 freestyle (e.g. she needs to be at 110 or higher). For her 400 freestyle, I would like to see her at 95+, but anything above 80 will be sufficient for now. Please be forewarned that we make it fun so hysterical laughing might occur in this exercise; in fact, it should be encouraged.

Once she learned to pace her arm movements in the dryland exercise, we moved her into the water. Putting the Tempo Trainer on her goggles strap next to her ears allowed her to hear the beep while wearing the TTP comfortably.

After several weeks of practice time, she was moving her arms fairly consistently to the beep, in all three speeds. To start in the water, it was easier for her to “high-five” me in a similar fashion as the dry land exercise, and then continuing the hand slapping while doing full strokes. She became a faster swimmer and I had to get out of her way so that she could swim freely at the new tempos she was learning.

We hope that she will carry this new skill into her races, but at least for now, she is swimming in practice at a faster stroke rate than before. She’s already won in our eyes.

About Coach Kenneth

Coach Kenneth Rippetoe loves being in the water and teaching swimming. He is a member of the American Swimming Coach Association, certified as Disability Level 3 & US Masters Level 2 Coach. Kenneth competed in intercollegiate swimming at John Brown University and he is a 1993 All-American, as a member of the 4 x 200 yard Freestyle relay team. He was a 1993 National Qualifier in the 100 yard Backstroke and the 200 yard Individual Medley. As a U.S. Masters swimmer, Kenneth set a FINA Masters World Record in the 4 x 100 short course meters relay, December 2009. Kenneth has 14 U.S. Masters Top Ten swims. He has worked as a swim instructor and lifeguard since 1985.


We believe that swimming is a life-skill that all children and adults should learn. By learning how to swim, we increase our understanding of the world around us. Swimming also equips us with skills that help us to live better and might potentially save our life at some point. Learning to swim teaches us ways to cope with the challenges that come our way in life. The approach used by One with the Water provides success at any age. We empower swimmers, building their confidence and awareness of the water, teaching them how to swim as quickly as possible

One with the Water is a nationally acclaimed non-profit swim school dedicated to teaching life-changing swimming skills to kids and adults—many of them with disabilities or special needs such as Autism, Asperger’s, ADD, ADHD, sensory integration, anxiety, Down and CHARGE syndrome, auditory processing disorders and dyslexia. OWTW also provides lessons to Service-Disabled Veterans and athletes of the U.S. Paralympics and U.S. Special Olympics. OWTW has been featured on the Sundance Channel and is a preferred charity for Train-4-Autism. More information can be found at Donations are always welcome and greatly appreciated. Please contact us at 323-364-Swim (7946) to find out more about us.


John Mix and Olympic Gold Medal swimmer Pablo Morales founded FINIS, Inc. in 1993 with a mission to simplify swimming for athletes, coaches, beginners and lifelong swimmers around the world. Today, FINIS, Inc. fulfills that mission through technical innovation, high quality products and a commitment to education. FINIS, Inc. products are currently available in over 80 countries. With a focus on innovation and the fine details of swimming, FINIS, Inc. will continue to develop products that help more people enjoy the water.

The FINIS, Inc. Tempo Trainer Pro

Develop consistency and avoid lulls with a personal pace coach, the Tempo Trainer Pro. The small, waterproof device easily secures under a swimmer’s cap or clips onto the goggle strap and transmits an audible tempo beep. Athletes use the beep to train smarter and discover their perfect pace. Now with the option to replace the battery, the Tempo Trainer Pro will last multiple lifetimes. The advanced unit also has a new Sync button and a new mode in strokes/strides per minute for increased functionality. The Tempo Trainer Pro includes a clip for dry land exercise or clipping onto the goggle straps.

Read this article on the FINIS website.

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