Swimming can be a highly motivating activity for all young children, but may have increased benefits for toddlers with special needs. Toddlers with physical disabilities may experience increased mobility in the buoyant water, while toddlers with autism or sensory integration impairments may enjoy the tactile experience of floating in the water. And the sheer fun of swimming may motivate children with speech impairments to use a little more language to obtain a special water toy or gain additional time in the water.
Children with ear tubes or hearing aids often need ear protection in the pool. Some children may have tubes surgically placed in their ears to prevent a buildup of fluid in the middle ear. In these cases, doctors often recommend that children wear ear plugs to keep bacteria from entering the ears while swimming. There are a variety of products available, including custom ear plugs, ear putty and even headbands, to provide protection. Most manufacturers recommend that children with hearing aids remove the device prior to entering water. However, if you would like your child to be able to wear her hearing aid in other areas of the pool, such as the locker room, it may be helpful to use protective equipment to keep moisture from entering the expensive equipment. Consider purchasing waterproof seals to cover your child’s hearing aids.
Toddlers of all ability levels require arm’s length supervision while in the water. Toddlers with special needs, particularly physical disabilities, may increase their comfort level and access to swimming activities with flotation devices. Children with reduced head and neck control may benefit from a swim collar, worn under the head to keep your child’s face out of the water. There are also floats and mats designed to support your child’s trunk, while leaving her arms and legs free to move and play. Flotation belts provide additional support, but allow for freedom of movement during water activities.
Many toddlers, regardless of ability level, are still in diapers, and toddlers with special needs may require additional time to master potty training. If your child is not toilet trained, it is important to find swim diapers designed for water wear. Standard diapers are more likely to leak fluids or fecal matter into the water, contaminating the pool with bacteria. There are many disposable swim diapers on the market or you can purchase reusable swim diapers made of waterproof materials. If your child has a latex allergy, you must find a swimsuit that is latex-free. Many swimsuits contain latex in the elastic, so purchase a swimsuit that is labelled latex-free. Specialty companies also offer latex-free swim caps and swim goggles.
Water toys can often enhance the swimming experience, particularly for children who may have difficulty remaining engaged. While unnecessary to purchase specialty toys, just choose toys based on your child’s individual needs and preferences. While the water itself is a sensory experience, some children craving increased input may enjoy toys with interesting shapes, colors and textures. Bumpy balls or other easy catch balls may be ideal for beginning ball play in the water. Water toys with sounds, such as a squeaky rubber ducky, may appeal to children with visual impairments.