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Case Study: Ciaran (Dad) and James (Son)

Karsten's (the instructor) Overview

I first met James and his dad (Ciaran) in October 2013.  James is on the autism spectrum.  He is a likeable boy who can talk, his vocabulary for an 8 year old is very advanced.  As a result he likes to know about everything, why are we doing this? How can I do this? Why does this happen?

Teaching James I need a lot of answers, and I’m always happy to give them.  At first James wasn’t having ‘swimming lesson’ he was just coming to see me and the pool (without getting in).  He was very timid of the water and as his dad would say ‘he’d climb the walls at the thought of getting into the water’.  The first lesson I managed to convince him to get into the water and walk around the water, which for him to do calmly was a massive step!  Each week we added more content with bubbles in the water which lead to the face in the water, and encouraging independence on the woggle which took longer.  As with all timid swimmers with or without autism, it takes time and it’s all about baby steps.

James autism means that instructions must be precise, if he can find an alternate meaning he will!  This always makes me think about what I’m saying to him.  He has a technical and vivid imagination which often means that games are produced to help complete goals or to increase them.  His favourite game to help with his distances is a computer game where he can lose lives if he doesn’t complete the distance or a bonus level if he does something new.  James leads these games and is always very ordered and when he comes back the next week he knows what level he’s on (and always reminds me!!).

At his first lesson James' dad said that just after Christmas he’d be having swimming lesson with school.  The goal at that point was for James to go to those lessons without screaming the place down.  As the lessons progressed and James got more confidence I suggested that Ciaran take James to the pool that the school use to introduce James to the environment so that when January comes he doesn’t become stressed with the lessons.

It was at this point that Ciaran realised that he should have lessons because his experience as a child growing up in Ireland was in the sea with family and friends.  Also swimming would be a shared thing for father and son to do on the weekend.  Lessons have been going very well and like his son he is very technical and needs to every detail and feel every detail in his body.  Swimming can be quite complex when we think about every detail which can make it quite challenging for Ciaran.  However after a few months we are moving towards the goal of having a relaxed and efficient front crawl in the water.

After a year of lessons James is the complete opposite from where we started a year ago.  He can jump in, dive underwater, swim a controlled length of front crawl and backstroke and is now learning the early phases of breast stroke.  Lessons are always interesting with James and we both work hard to help him succeed and enjoy his new liquid environment.

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Diane Burt (Reading) (Adult Beginner)

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I came to Swim Expert at 60 with no swimming experience and I have now learned to swim front crawl, backstroke and breaststroke. I would like to say thank you because I now enjoy swimming at my local pool for fitness and swimming in the sea when I go on holiday!