Instructing swimmers with disabilities
Friday, 27 November 2020
The Brookes Sport Swim School caters for swimmers of all abilities, including swimmers with disabilities. As well as teaching pupils from local schools with disabilities, we also teach swimming to children from the charity Level Water.
Level Water is a UK swimming charity who provide specialist one-to-one swimming lessons for children with physical disabilities. We provide weekly lessons to children referred from Level Water, at no cost to the pupil.
The swimmers we have taught through Level Water over the past few years have achieved far more than they would have done within a group lesson environment. Some swimmers have a disability making it unsafe for them to be taught in a group. For example, pupils who are blind need a teacher in the water with them at all times, whereas a swimmer who is more able and is partially sighted can enjoy our private lessons without the need for a teacher in the water but might not be safe if the water space also included other swimmers.
When teaching blind and partially sighted pupils our teachers need to adapt their teaching styles to get their instructions across. With a blind swimmer, the instructions need to be clear and concise, as the teacher cannot use physical demonstrations as they usually would when teaching sighted pupils. With permission, gentle manual correction can also be used so the blind swimmer feels the movement asked of them.
One of our Level Water teachers said this:
Through my teaching of a child who is blind, I have learned how to explain what I want from children in all of my classes as I am unable to rely on my visual demonstrations. This has in turn boosted my confidence as a teacher massively as I now know to trust what I am saying to get across clearly to all of the classes. What surprised me about these lessons is that a child will try anything I ask of them. They are eager to improve and try new things and, as long as they are safe, I need to trust that we can go into something brand new and backtrack if needs be!
Many years ago I taught a blind swimmer within a school swimming setting. On first meeting the swimmer I was worried about the pupil’s safety as they could easily swim into a wall or other pupils in the class. I need not have worried, the school was very prepared and provided an in-the-water helper, though the pupil was so competent she rarely needed intervention. On the last day of school swimming, it was traditional for the children to take part in structured play, and for the stronger swimmers, this included being allowed to jump off the diving boards. Our blind pupil made it perfectly clear that as she was a competent swimmer she should be given this option too. After carrying out an activity risk assessment, it was decided that she could be allowed to have a go on the lower of the two springboards, but we needed to guide her to the end of the board so she did not fall off the side. With assistance, the pupil made her way to the end of the board, the whole class watching and waiting, including those not brave enough to jump themselves. After a gentle bounce, she launched herself off the 1-metre springboard into the deep water. Her entry was neat and she had followed the instructions given to her. On reaching the surface, she popped up with a massive grin and demanded another go!
This experience taught me that as long as there is a safe way of doing things, people with disabilities should be given a chance to try new things, they might just surprise you what they can achieve! That little girl is an adult now but I hope she remembers that day at the pool and realises that not only did she achieve, she also gave her spectators confidence in trying new things that put them out of their comfort zone.
We do not just teach children with visual impairments, another of our Level Water teachers who teaches children with other physical disabilities and is a Primary Education Student with OBU said this:
I teach Level Water as I believe that inclusive practice is incredibly important and that all children should have equal opportunities for learning how to swim - regardless of ability or challenges. Being a teacher for Level Water has improved my knowledge of special learning needs in preparation for my future teaching career. I need to make extra adaptations during the lessons to consider what will make the pupils feel comfortable and confident in the water.
I have been surprised by the positive learning effect these swimming lessons have produced in the children, not just in the immediate lesson, but also in their broader life. I have been told by parents how swimming lessons are a highlight of the week and give the child a positive outlook.
Within the swim school, we also teach children who have varying levels of hearing impairments, so we need to ensure our pupils who can partially hear us receive the instructions over the top of the noisy background of the pool. For those less able to hear, we need to position ourselves directly in front of them so they can see our lips move, and pick up on our visual demonstrations.
Teaching swimming to pupils with most disabilities is very achievable and always rewarding. All pupils deserve the opportunity to learn to swim to make them safe and allow them to enjoy and exercise in water. Water can give freedom to pupils with muscular and coordination issues, sometimes increasing their range of movement and giving them pain relief. Pupils dependent on help on land can find themselves able to move independently in the water.
We believe that as long as the pupil is willing to give things a go, and the teacher approaches the lesson with a “what can this pupil safely achieve” rather than “what can’t this pupil achieve” attitude, the sky is the limit!
This piece was written by Marie Royal, Swim School Manager. If you're interested in trying out our facilities after lockdown please visit Brookes Sport for details about our facilities.