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Benefits of Swimming Lessons for Children with ADHD

October is ADHD Awareness Month—a unique opportunity to highlight how water activities can help children with ADHD and others who deal with sensory challenges. However, we believe this topic remains invaluable 365 days a year.  

Before jumping into swim lessons and making a splash, there may be challenges for some children, and the change in the pool environment—sights, sounds, smells, textures—can be overwhelming. However, the benefits of swimming for children with ADHD and sensory struggles are worth taking the first stroke. 

The Benefits of Exercise for ADHD

What is ADHD? The CDC states that, “ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. It is usually first diagnosed in childhood and often lasts into adulthood. Children with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors (may act without thinking about what the result will be), or be overly active.” 

Parents of children with sensory struggles often look towards behavioral treatments and work with medical professionals to find the best care for their children. One of the most commonly suggested treatments for individuals with ADHD is exercise. Medical News Today shows that exercise offers several benefits for individuals with ADHD including: 

  • Reduced impulsivity
  • Reduced hyperactivity 
  • Improved attention control 
  • Enhanced executive functioning 

Swimming Benefits for Children with ADHD

According to Henry Ford Pediatrician Leonard Pollack, M.D., individual sports, such as swimming may be more beneficial for children with ADHD than traditional team sports. Swimming and individual sports offer direct interaction between coach and athlete. 

Dr. Pollack states that, “Individual sports offer a coaching dynamic where the instruction is more one-on-one. It’s much easier for children with ADHD to focus if there are fewer distractions and the coaching is directed specifically at them. If they are playing a sport where the coaching is directed more at the team as a whole, an athlete with ADHD may have a harder time paying attention.” 

Swimming is also listed as a great cardiovascular activity that can “raise the heart rate for the duration of the exercise to increase breathing rate and make the body sweat,” as stated by Medical News Today. The publication goes on to report that researchers found “moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise” can help lessen the symptoms of ADHD in children and adults.  

ADHD Swimming Success

Perhaps these benefits helped one Olympian excel in the sport of swimming and in life. 

Since making a splash on the Olympic stage in 2004 with six gold medals, Michael Phelps’s diagnosis with ADHD has been well documented. It has become an inspirational success story for many individuals and children. 

In an article by Sports Illustrated, Phelps describes his ADHD diagnosis as both a challenge and struggle that has made him into the person he is today. “It’s something that I’m thankful happened, and I’m thankful that I am how I am,” he said. “I look at myself every day and I’m so proud and so happy of who I am and who I was able to become.” 

Swimming Benefits for Sensory Struggles

So, what aspects of swimming make it beneficial for those with sensory struggles? 

Pediatric Physical Therapist, mom of three and co-author of The Inspired Treehouse blog, Lauren Drobnjak, recommends swimming as her #1 sport for children with sensory difficulties. She lists swimming as one of her primary ADHD activities because, “It offers strengthening benefits, promotes cardiovascular endurance, and provides proprioceptive, tactile, vestibular, and auditory experiences.”  

Additionally, Drobnjak writes that, “The resistance of the water as kids are moving helps to improve their awareness of where their body is in space. Water can also provide a consistent and safe place for vestibular input.” Swimming can “strengthen their sensory processing skills, while also providing calming and modulating benefits.” 

Swim Lessons for Children with Disabilities

Aqua-Tots’ Students Needing Adaptive Programming (S.N.A.P.) classes create private lessons tailored to a child’s special needs and abilities, and we’re committed to helping all children develop a life-long love of water. Swim lessons help children with disabilities develop spatial awareness as they use reference points and explore water depth. This increased spatial awareness, along with the physical balance that naturally develops during swimming, can help keep children with disabilities from falling into the water, offering additional safety for them in and around the water. 
At Aqua-Tots Swim School, we believe that all children can experience a lifetime of benefits from learning how to swim; they only need the opportunity to get their feet wet in safe, friendly and adaptive environment. To learn more about S.N.A.P. classes and what your local school offers, please contact your neighborhood Aqua-Tots Swim School. 

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