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Learning to Swim With Dyspraxia

My 5 year old son has dyspraxia, which means he finds it difficult to coordinate himself and has poor muscle tone.

The problem we are encountering learning to swim with dyspraxia is his inability to float and his inability to get his head out of the water to breathe.

He can "swim"... well over 20metres without a breath, can dive, and with the aid of a snorkel he has swum over 500 metres without any buoyancy aids or floats.

Floating seems to be impossible, he simply sinks and whilst he does come back up to a degree, it’s never enough for his mouth or nose to break the surface (yes even on his back). Backstroke has similar effects, he doesn’t have the strength or coordination to master this yet.

Swimming on his front his can keep his head out of the water enough that the top of his nose is clear but not enough to breathe.

Can you suggest anything to help? techniques to use or flotation aids to try. Floatation aids seem to be either armbands or vest types, which seem overkill for the tiny amount of buoyancy he needs to break the surface.

Really hoping you can help.

This is a very common occurrence with children in general learning to swim and may actually have little to do with his dyspraxia.

So often over the years I have found 4 and 5 year old children learning to swim nearly always learn to swim underwater before they can swim with their head and face out of the water.

Obviously his dyspraxia will affect his coordination and his motor skills more so than other children and there are a couple of ways to help bring on his movements and help his swimming strength.

When it comes to lifting the head to take a breath it is the arm action that is key. A good arm pull is required to help pull the body upwards and lift the head over the water surface. Simply lifting the face upwards to breathe is usually not enough.

Try having him holding a float under one arm and using the other to pull the water whilst kicking his legs. This is an old exercise used in swimming lessons and it allows the swimmer to focus on one arm only whilst the float gives just about enough support to lift the head to breathe. Change arms with the float about every 20 meters so that both arms get an even amount of swimming.

This will allow him to build up the strength in his arms and get used to raising his head to breathe regularly.

To get him to breathe before he really needs to and to avoid him swimming forever with his head down try and teach him to lift his head every 3 or 4 arm pulls. If counting arm pulls whilst he is swimming is difficult (as his dyspraxia may cause it to be) then get him to breathe on your command. The main point here to stop him going for the easy option which he has been used to, that being swimming as far as he can with his head down.

Another option is to try a Swimfin. The Swimfin will probably give him a little more buoyancy than he needs but it will give him total freedom of his arms and allow them to reach and pull in the correct way as if he had no buoyancy aids on at all.

You are absolutely correct, arm bands and floatation vests are overkill and although the Swimfin will provide more floatation than he needs it will apply it in the right place for now. Click here for more information about Swimfin

Don’t be surprised or put off if he develops a vertical swimming position for a while, as the Swimfin sometimes does this. If you are encouraging him to lift his head to breathe he will be doing it at the expense of his floating legs and they will in turn sink a little.

Over time as he builds up strength in his arms and other muscles needed to lift his head he will be able to do it without his legs sinking.

Make sure you mix swimming with the buoyancy aids with some swimming without any and then he will get a chance to put his new found breathing technique to the test and will also not become reliant on any floats.

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Apr 23, 2020
Put a float under one arm
by: Anonymous

The advice to put a float under one arm and pull with the other, I don't think that's going to work too well. It's too much differing information on either side of the body to process.
The same with saying that a strong pull lifts the head out of the water someone with dyspraxia probably won't be able to tell how hard they are pulling, and this may cause them to add extra movements which actually cause them unnecessary effort.

Sep 21, 2014
Just a thought
by: Terry

I recently met someone with one arm having been repaired with extensive surgery after a nasty fall which left her with very limited use in that arm and a quick search led me to this page.

I have taught a 65 year old lady and one of my grand daughters to swim both using the same technique which is the end product of many years interest in physical exercise.The exercise focuses interest on the correct use of the whole spine and for that reason I am sure it has universal applications for anyone wanting to swim.

Jan 27, 2013
Dyspraxic 11 year old swimmer
by: Frenetic

I have an 11 year old daughter who is dyspraxic. She took lessons year round for 4 or 5 years before she decided to join big sister on swim team. Thank heavens for understanding coaches. The biggest thing that I have noticed is that she has great difficult in crossing the midline. Unilateral movement gives her more issues than bilateral movement.
Freestyle is incredibly difficult for her. Her poor brain has to work so hard to tell her limbs what to do. Her body ends up looking like it is snaking through the water. Her left hand twists and the back of the hand is what ends up slapping the water instead of scooping or slicing.

Her bilateral movement is great! Breaststroke, which is a difficult stroke to coordinate, is her best. Her kick is a tad unconventional, but still legal in meets.

Circle swimming in practice is hard, as she lacks spatial awareness and depth perception. We have been working on the dive off the block for over a year... it is very slow going and will likely take a lot longer.

Thankfully, she has understanding teammates and she seems to like swimming.

So, in regards to an individual learning how to swim that has dyspraxia, they really need one-on-one instruction, with a well seasoned instructor constantly manipulating their body as verbal instruction can be difficult to understand. Getting verbal instruction with physical manipulation will help a lot.
Keep them in lessons year round. Taking time off can be detrimental to a dyspraxic learning how to swim. You want to keep things in their longterm memory. And, it is a great form of occupational therapy!

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