Swim Lessons for Autistic Kids

Parent Q&A

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  • Swim Lessons for Autistic/Disabled Kids

    (1 reply)

    Hi East Bay Parents,

    I'm looking for an experienced and effective swim instructor for a 10-yr-old child, who is minimally verbal with many processing issues (sensory, visual, auditory), severe motor-planning challenges, and very limited motor skills (plus, anxieties, fears ...). My goal is water safety and actual swim skills, as well as perhaps a doorway to physical movement and motor development. My hope is that being in the water can facilitate a comfort to try new movements and experiment with movement, to achieve greater range of motion and eventually, fitness/strength. Anyone out there have experience with physical therapists or APE-type coaches who specialize in individualized water-based movement and/or teaching water safety/swim skills for kids with the above challenges? Alternatively, anyone had experience with the instructors at Patti's Swim School? Appreciate hearing of recent experiences and learning of resources. I'm looking for individual lessons and ideally an outdoor setting. (Indoor pools and group lessons won't work for this child) Thank you!

    -BPN Mom

    Hi! I have 2 girls ages 7&11 who have ASD and they both have strong sensory issues related to water. Even washing their hair can be a real issue! I found canyon swim school in El sobrante very affordable and receptive to my kids special needs. I couldn't believe how comfortable they felt and how much progress they made! Definitely recommend canyon swim school for special needs children. Best of luck! 

  • I have 2 daughters who have high functioning autism age 10&6 and they are very water sensitive and cannot dunk their heads under water. Even washing hair is a struggle! Anyone have recommendations for a sensory sensitive swim instructor? 

    Albany Pool offers “Adapted Swim Lessons” that are specially geared to toward meeting individual needs.

    You can try SNAPkids (Special Needs Aquatic Program) in Berkeley as they work with children with special needs.  They often have a waiting list, but it's worth checking. snapkids.org. Good luck.

  • Seeking Swim Lessons for Special Needs 4yo

    (3 replies)

    My son is a happy four year old with autism and learning delays. He is non-verbal, but responds to commands and prompts. He loves playing in the water and we'd like to see if there are any group or private classes or instructors that specialize in working with special needs kids and/or kids with intellectual disabilities. Thanks!

    You may want to check out the Facebook group East Bay Autism Parents. There is a great community there. People often post questions like yours and receive some good referrals. 

    Hi there! I was a volunteer for this AMAZING organization: http://snapkids.org/programs-and-services/ , which sounds like just what you're looking for...They are amazing and Dori who runs the program is fabulous. Good luck!

    Check out the Downtown Berkeley YMCA. They have a swim and gym program designed specifically for this, as well as a parent support group. I have no personal experience but the kids in this program always look very happy splashing in the pool.


    They also offer kids night out for special needs children. See description below.


    Includes Parent Support/Resource Group

    Our inclusion program was created to encourage children to participate in a group instructional setting, to offer time for inclusive play with others, as well as establish a supportive environment for parents to share resources with each other. In this program, youth and parents spend 30 minutes in the pool with instructors, then transition to either inclusion time in our Child Watch room, or free play in our Kindergym. While children are engaged in inclusion time / free play, parents participate in a peer support discussion.


    Enjoy a night out while your children play at the YMCA. Kids spend the evening engaged in fun, age-appropriate activities including: group games, arts & crafts, and Kindergym play. Dinner and healthy snacks provided. 1:3 staff to child ratio. If your child needs more supervision because of behavior issues or health conditions, contact: rgriffin [at] ymcacba.org prior to registering. Siblings welcome to register.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Swim class for high functioning autistic 5-year-old

Oct 2013

Hey there, I have a 5 year old boy with autism who is very hesitant about swimming/getting in the pool/physical activity in general. I was looking for someplace that has either specific special needs classes or someone who is just good with that population. The Berkely Y classes just don't work for our schedule at this point, but they're the only place we've been able to find that specifically mentions special needs. Any feedback much appreciated!

this response is for you as well as the one following you re swim classes- Albany Unified School District pool! My daughter is on the spectrum and has some palsy issues and she did 3 semesters of private lessons at the beautiful City of Albany pool and loved it. There were a LOT of other neuroatypical kids there having private lessons and the instructors are all skilled and friendly. The locker room is immaculate and there is free and plentiful parking. Rates for nonresidents are a bit higher but still very reasonable, and I found everyone at this brand new facility to be really kind and helpful. My daughter is now water-safe, and I was not stressed out by the lack of parking, unhelpful employees, and running the homeless gauntlet that typifies my previous experiences at the Berkeley Y. I'll never go the the Berkeley Y again

April 2009

Re: Swim teacher to come to our house
Hi I just wanted to put in a good word for two wonderful special needs swimming instructors, Derrick Hensman and Alon Altman. They have taught my autistic son at the Berkeley High Warm Pool for many months now and he has made terrific progress swimming and he absolutely LOVES to go. Both the instructors are really patient, calm, and understand kids with sensory issues and limited verbal abilities. Derrick's email is swimdivesail [at] gmail.com. Alon's email is noo_shoin [at] yahoo.com Mary

My son's regular swim teacher had a substitute last week. My son really liked him. I don't know if he's amenable to coming to your house, but I do know he's looking for instruction opportunities (he sent an email around asking us for recommendations). His information is: Derrick Hensman 510-296-5069 swimdivesail [at] gmail.com Qualifications: 15 years as a swim instructor for children 6 months of age and older; 15 years of teaching adults and seniors; 7 years of teaching developmentally challenged individuals (i.e. Autism and Down Syndrome); Certified Water Safety Instructor (WSI); Lifeguard; First Aid and CPR certified. Karen

May 2008

Re: Swim lessons for 5-y-o with selective mutism
My children have been taking private lessons at AquaTech Swim School in Alameda since the beginning of March and they both love it. Recently, a boy with autism has started lessons at the same time we are there and I've been very impressed with the way the teacher (Adrienne) interacts with him and his progress. Family members have gotten in the pool with him, so I'm sure that wouldn't be a problem. I would definitely contact them to discuss your grandson's situation. It's quite possible they could arrange lessons with a different teacher for your granddaughters at the same time. Here's the contact information: http://www.aquatechswimschool.com/ Phone number is: (510) 337-0200 Happy Swim Mom