How to Help Kids With Sensory Processing Issues Enjoy Swim Time at Camp
The Understood Team
At a Glance
Swim time at camp can be stressful for kids who are sensitive to touch and noise.
Talking with your child ahead of time can prepare her for what she may encounter.
Working with the camp on strategies can reduce the chance of problems.
Swim time at camp! For many kids, that’s a high point of the day. But if your child has
sensory processing issues, this daily activity can pose challenges. The good news is there are many ways you can help.
The best place to start is with the camp—and as far in advance as possible. It’s important for the staff to know about your child’s issues. Together, you can discuss strategies that can help avoid problems.
Preparing your child is key. Help her anticipate triggers she might encounter during swim time such as noise and splashing. Let her know that you and the camp staff will work together to keep these challenges from getting in the way of having fun and being part of the action.
What to Discuss With the Camp
If possible visit the camp in advance to see the swimming area. (If not, ask the camp to send pictures of it, or look for some on the camp website.) See if your child can meet the swim instructor or waterfront director before camp starts.
Talk to the swim staff about situations that might be an issue and signs they might see if your child is getting overwhelmed. If camp is a new experience for your child, mention to the staff that unexpected issues may come up. And share strategies that might help.
Explain to them, for instance, that your child needs to take off her wet swimsuit as soon as she gets out of the water and dry off with the towel you’ve sent. (A hooded towel can reduce the amount of chilly air she feels on her neck and head.)
If splashing is a stress point, ask if there’s a way they can create a “no splash zone” in the lake or pool. Could she take swim instruction or have “free swim” in a small group?
If your child needs to wear swim goggles or earplugs to keep water from getting into her eyes or ears, let the staff know. (If she’ll be wearing goggles for the first time, have her get used to them in the bathtub. Put fun trinkets in the bottom of the tub so that she has to put her head underwater to find them.)
If the feel of the bottom of the pool or lake is a problem, explain that your child will be wearing special water shoes. Talk about options if there’s a rule about swim caps and your child can’t stand to wear one. Maybe the camp can
give your child an accommodation so she doesn’t need to wear one.
There’s not much the camp can do about the sounds of kids having fun in the water. Or of swim staff shouting or blowing whistles. The same goes with the jostling that comes with playing water games or kids just bumping into each other.
But that doesn’t mean the camp can’t be receptive to your child’s needs if she has
noise sensitivity issues. Let the staff know that noise or crowdedness can be overwhelming for your child, and she may need to move away from the pack of kids to a quieter spot. Or she may have to come out of the water entirely. Let your child know it’s OK if she needs a break.
Helpful Items to Pack
In addition to talking to your child and to the camp, you can pack some things to make swim time easier for your child.
Goggles and earplugs (if your child isn’t
sensitive to how they feel) can help keep water from getting into her eyes and ears. Earplugs can also help her cope with loud noises like shouting campers and whistles.
Your child may want to wear water shoes if she dislikes how the bottom of the pool or lake feels.
If she’s sensitive to tight clothing, consider getting her a swimsuit one size bigger so it’s not too tight. Or look for loose-fitting board shorts.
Send an extra swimsuit if she’ll be swimming more than once a day.
Wearing a long-sleeved shirt or “rash guard” can reduce the amount of sunscreen your child needs to wear—or has to reapply at camp. (Explain to the camp ahead of time that she needs to wear one.)
Think about the clothes your child will be wearing before and after swim time. Pack loose-fitting, breathable fabrics like cotton T-shirts and shorts or sweat pants.
Swimming is one of a number of
summertime challenges kids with sensory processing issues can face. Even if you talk to the camp in advance and pack all the “right” stuff, your child may still have trouble with swim time. That’s OK. Ask the camp what they can do if your child just can’t handle swim time. See if they’ll allow her to skip it entirely. Swim time, and
camp in general, should be a fun and enriching experience!
By understanding your child’s needs, the camp may be able to create a better environment for her.
Send her with items that can reduce her discomfort, whether it’s earplugs or loose clothing to change into.
If swim time just doesn’t work out for your child with sensory processing issues, it’s OK for her not to participate.