The VIP autistic swim meetThe VIP autistic swim meet

My son is a member of a VIP swim team. The team is not restricted to children with autism only, nor is it restricted to only children. There are adults on the older team. One adult, for example, is blind.

On my son’s team, which is a team designed for less experienced swimmers, there are kids with Downs Syndrome and other afflictions. Some kids have to swim with an instructor, but others are fully independent.

There are all ages and abilities in this VIP league.

Is there a difference between an individual sport and a team sport for our kids?

The chemistry on the swim team is a bit different than the chemistry on the VIP soccer team, for example. The soccer team consists mostly of kids on the autistic spectrum. Some are mild, like my son, others are less functioning. One is non-verbal, and a few of them need assistance in order to participate.

Mostly, the concept of the sport itself is different.

Soccer is a team sport and the soccer instructors want to teach the players to participate as a team. What that means is a different approach to coordination and performance.

I sometimes marvel at the soccer coach as he tries to motivate our kids to pass to one another and play as a team. He expends a great deal of energy mixed with tons of enthusiasm.

The way I see the swimming program, the swim instructors focus more on individuals. They teach strokes and try to build up endurance. For example, a swimmer should be able to learn four or five different strokes while consistently doing them lap after lap. Eventually, they learn to swim with some speed.

Swimming is an individual sport when competing (unless you’re in a medley). Yet, each individual swimmer is also a part of a team. Toss in a VIP team, where kids have a large range of issues (spectrum or not), and the challenges for instructors is daunting.

How do swimmers practice a team mentality?

As opposed to soccer games, swimming teams have swim meets. The kids race each other (typically they are paired by similar ability in groups of six or seven). Each kid will have, at least, three races. Some will try multiple strokes. (Free style is the most common, but our kids also learn butterfly, breaststroke, and backstroke).

As an athlete and sports fan, I have attended thousands of sporting events. Some I have participated in over the years, others I was purely a spectator.

However, as a 47-year-old, I had never attended a swim meet until last fall. It was not only my first swim meet, but my first VIP swim meet.

VIP swim meets are big events with all the VIP teams represented. This means that there are lots of people in attendance—swimmers and folks there to watch. There are many heats (races) but we learned the hard way that swimmers often need to wait up to an hour between races.

Waiting for our kids is not always easy, especially in a situation with lots of people and lots of noise. During my sons’ first VIP swim meet, I found myself walking him around to distract him.

However, my son was not the only one bouncing all over the place, there were several kids who had to regulate their bodies for the four hour event.

Now that my son has experienced two VIP swim meets, we feel like we’re veterans. My son learned to root for his fellow swimmers when he wasn’t in a heat and he also learned that he was expected to try to compete at a level above a regular swim practice.

How was a swimming meet different than a soccer game?

IMHO, soccer games pretty much resemble soccer practices.

Swimming meets were a bigger challenge. Not only for the reasons I already mentioned, but because my son had to actually learn how to compete.

For example, my son struggled with the difference between swimming a 25 (one length of the pool) and a 50 (two lengths, down and back).

I had to coach him to turn around and go all the way back as quickly as possible. He was not used to this concept.

A second example came during his second swim meet when he was supposed to swim the butterfly stroke. Unfortunately, he forgot what stroke he was supposed to swim and began to swim the free style instead. He later said he got too excited and simply forgot.

Is there a larger difference?

I actually think there is a larger difference between the soccer league and the swimming for my son. My son likes the soccer, but the swimming actually feels good on his body. He does it three times a week for one hour each time. And, if you throw in a swim meet, that’s a lot of swimming in one week. But, all of it feels good to him. It regulates his body while exercising it.

Swimming is a wonderful sport for our kids. Many kids on the spectrum have trouble learning a sport that involves an entire team interaction. They have trouble taking direction from a typical coach and trouble with the team concept.

I’ve played on enough teams to know that my son would not like the experience that I had.

Swimming is great for our kids. Learning how to swim is practical and beneficial for children on the spectrum. And, lots of fun, too.

For more activities with your autistic child, read here:

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