As a parent or guardian, you want your child to indulge in sporting activities despite a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. But how can you guarantee their safety, and are there alternative sports for children with autism? Read on for everything you need to know about autism and sports and how to teach children on the spectrum to swim.

What Is Autism?

Autism, also known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by difficulties in social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors. Autism symptoms vary greatly among individuals.

With that said, most children on the spectrum have difficulty learning, moving, and paying attention. As such, medical professionals advise guardians with children on the spectrum to keep them engaged in physical activities where they can interact with their peers and gain life skills.

Autism and Sports

Sports can be beneficial to children with autism. Participating in physical activities and team sports can help children on the spectrum improve their physical fitness, social skills, and self-esteem.

However, like with neurotypical children, not all sports can be a perfect fit for a child with autism. Some sports are simply too demanding. And there’s also the issue of loud playground environments, which might not be conducive for some children on the spectrum.

Therefore, you should help your child choose a sport that they enjoy and can excel at. You can try the following sports.

Five Sports for Children With Autism

When most parents think of enrolling their children in a sport, organized team sports like soccer are the go-to options for many. Unfortunately, organized sports may not be the best fit for children with autism due to their communication and social difficulties.

But you cannot rule out team sports entirely since they provide the most benefits in helping your child improve their communication skills. Therefore, you should opt for less demanding sports with mild team aspects.

Some of the best sports for children with autism include the following:

  1.   Swimming – The sport provides a sensory-rich environment that can be calming and therapeutic for some children with autism.
  2.   Cycling – This activity is a low-impact exercise that can help children on the spectrum develop balance and coordination skills.
  3.   Horseback riding – Horseback riding can help children with autism improve their balance, coordination, and communication skills.
  4.   Track and field – The sport can help children with autism develop coordination, balance, and endurance.
  5.   Gymnastics – Gymnastics can help children on the spectrum develop strength, coordination, and flexibility.

Tips for Teaching a Child With Autism to Swim

Children on the autism spectrum often have difficulty communicating and learning new skills. Therefore, teaching them to swim might require a bit of practice and know-how.

Here are a few tips for teaching a child to swim safely and enjoyably.

Use Swimming Aids

Swimming aids will make the experience safer, add variety to the learning experience, and keep the child engaged. Each child has unique needs, so you have to choose a swimming aid that addresses those needs without taking the fun out of the exercise.

Some of the best swimming aids for children with autism include the following:

  • Floating devices such as kickboards, noodles, or life jackets
  • Earplugs
  • Goggles
  • Swimming toys

Hire a Professional Instructor

Consider hiring a professional instructor with previous experience working with children with autism. A professional instructor can provide personalized attention and support and ensure that your child receives safe and effective instructions.

You can also work with the professional instructor to modify the lesson plan to accommodate your child’s unique needs and abilities. While you’re at it, you should ensure that your child feels safe and comfortable with the instructor.

Preparation, Visual Cues, and Communication

It is important to prepare your child for the experience beforehand. Talk to them about what to expect and use visual cues like photographs to give them an idea of what to expect.

You can also arrange to take them to a swimming pool, so they can see other children engaging in the activity. You should also encourage the child to ask questions and provide feedback to create a conducive learning environment.

Create a Routine

Establishing a routine for swim lessons can be beneficial for children with autism. Routine helps them overcome anxiety and provides a level of structure and predictability for the child.

While you’re at it, consider having the same instructor, using the same equipment, and starting and ending lessons at the same time each week.

Be Flexible

You must be flexible and adaptable when working with a child on the spectrum. Each child is unique and may have different needs. Therefore, you should be willing to adjust the lesson plan as needed, as they may not want to swim sometimes.

Introduce Water Early

Introducing your child to water early in their lives helps build comfort and familiarity. You can do this by engaging your child in simple activities such as playing in a kiddie pool, splashing in a bathtub, or pouring water over their hands.

Keep Lessons Short

Swimming is a physically demanding activity. Forcing your child to endure extended periods of exercise can be overwhelming. Therefore, you should keep lessons short, then gradually increase their length as you gauge your child’s progress.


Like with any other sport, practice helps master the skill. This is even more vital for children on the spectrum as they need more time to develop muscle memory and acquire new skills.

Consider having your child practice each skill several times in each lesson and reinforce the techniques taught in previous sessions. Over time, repeated exercise will help build confidence and help the child learn faster.

The Bottom Line

Teaching a child with autism to swim requires patience, flexibility, and a commitment to creating a positive and supportive environment. It is important to remember that each child is unique and may have different needs and abilities.

Therefore, listen to their feedback as you teach them and adjust the lesson plan to meet their needs and build confidence.


If you are ready to work with the best ABA therapy provider in New York, New Jersey or Indiana, give us a call at (732) 402-0297. Our dedicated team is ready to help and we will treat you like family.

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