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Why an understanding of Neurodiversity is VITAL in children’s swimming lessons?

Why an understanding of Neurodiversity is VITAL in children’s swimming lessons?

This blog is written through personal experience of working with children for years and owning my own neurodiverse child. I am not a professional – but I do know some fantastic ones I’ll reference at the end……I hope that this helps people to do a little bit of reading and improve their understanding of how this can impact some families every waking moment.

When I set up my swim school in 2012 and since that day I have been living and breathing my mantra of inclusivity. The ethos around our swimming lessons has remained to this day vitally important to how we run it and how we encourage all our teachers and franchisees to run.

The importance of encouraging parents and children to enjoy the water and allow them to find their own unique way to do this.

Our tag line from the start was “teach your child to have fun in the water”. It’s not about when can your child swim and whether they are happy underwater – all that takes time. As long as parents can get in the water with their child and enjoy the wonderful sensory playground it is then they will copy, mimic, practice and learn through play.

Through the last 12 years there have been significant changes in the conversations around neurodiversity, more children are being diagnosed and there is so much more information we can learn from the experts to understand the impacts that our social environment has on these children and how we can work together to better support them through the vital growing years.

What’s more is that the parents of these children need support too, they need to feel that the child’s response to certain things is ok, that their need for avoiding the feel of some equipment or the desire to say no to something they want to do is OK. Here is my guide to how to support those families from the moment they walk in the door.

children swimming on mat


Simple and clear comms from the start are so important, parents want to know quickly how much is it, what happens in a class and what do I need to bring. The right and simple information (and not too lengthy!) will make all parents life easier not least those who may struggle to process information in the normal way.

And ensuring that no question is left unanswered and that they are dealt with in a speedy and open way. Using your initiative to put yourself in others shoes is so important to properly understand and support those in your classes.


Some children, even the really small babies have an idea as soon as they arrive or before they have even left the house of where they are going, it’s somewhere new and they might not have been there before. OR it’s something they have done before and something happened they didn’t like. Or they are tired, hungry….out of routine…..all these things can have an impact, our role as facilitators of fun is to support the parents and give them time, space, information about how to make their journey to classes easier.

I’ve heard stories of parents being told off for being late – our job is to tell the parents it’s ok and allow the child space to settle. You can wait a minute to start a welcome song, you can make eye contact with the child and smile, maybe give them a toy earlier than you would have liked to.

During lessons

In the preschool days my (yet to be diagnosed!) son had way more freedom and the restrictions of schooling hadn’t come upon him yet. There were still things looking back that made him respond differently in the classes we went to. We didn’t always know what he would and wouldn’t want to do, swimming in particular was a big battle and a huge part of why the swim school runs as it does. He always responded to sensory experiences/overload with caution, a variety of small not major reactions were hard work as a parent and I wish I had received the support and reassurance of a teacher telling me that his response was normal.

The most traumatic experiences of being dunked under when he was in no way ready as a baby then being thrown in the water by a teacher as he would condition to it as a 4 year old set us back for a long time. AND I think I knew better but I went with it………

When we are facilitating children’s classes we should be encouraging exploration, children explore through their senses and they all do this so differently. This should be considered in all activities we do, and use your emotional intelligence and intuition to support parents. A little email after the class to say if a child is really upset to say is there anything we can do.

A note from a teacher “I always make a point of talking about sensory overwhelm in the pool when I have new ones starting and also tend to try and give some children more space to take their time and go a little slower, join activities when they feel ready for example “

And a little note from a parent “I loved how Alex allowed Drew to be himself (as in always arriving in role as some kind of sea creature and allowing him to just run with it – it really helped him to respond well)”

AND a little on celebration of neurodiversity…

One thing is very clear and from personal experience very effective – you must celebrate all children for their uniqueness and their wins – it doesn’t matter how small or big they are. This can make the day for a parent. A small but mighty moment of inclusivity that ensures they will feel wonderful.

These early responses are not always an indicator of future neurodiverse diagnosis and should never be used, it can just be a child that doesn’t like something BUT parents should always be assured that this is ok – distraction is often your best tool here but just a warm smile and supportive nature can be enough.

Of course, we don’t always get it right, the world is not perfect, there are unexpected diversions in life every day as we are all trying to navigate our way through. And it’s busier than ever now so let these classes be an opportunity for parents and their gorgeous children to find their own way, supported, loved and appreciated by children’s activity providers who are open, honest and trustworthy. That’s the small part we can play in supporting neurodiverse (AND neurotypical) families in 2024.

Laura x

PS check out this video:  

Laura has 3 children, 13, 10 and 7 – all very different personalities but the 13 year old has an ADHD diagnosis. She also works closely with 50 teachers, many of whom have children who are also diagnosed with a range of neurodiversities. The Baby Squids programme is written collaboratively with those who are affected by daily struggles as a family.

Recommended reading/listening – if we all become more aware of how to support adults and children then the world will become a much more understanding place.

  1. – this is a brilliant and easy listen – start from the beginning as it hugely helps to understand what ADHD is in a simple format
  2. – Podcast – great listen
  3. – Eliza beautifully illustrates what life is like for a child refusing school
  4. Swimming lessons with autism – blog by one of our awesome teachers.
  5. – “Inside our Autistic minds” – BBC documentary with Chris Packham
  6. Book called “ADHD Is Our Superpower: The Amazing Talents and Skills of Children with ADHD” – brilliant book….
  7. Book called “The Autism Discussion Page” on the core challenges of autism: A toolbox for helping children with autism feel safe, accepted, and competent – it has excellent social media pages too