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Tony Atwood, a clinical psychologist who has studied over a thousand individuals of all ages with Aspergerís Syndrome, stated that "the ability to swim appears least affected, and this activity can be encouraged to enable the child to experience genuine competence and admiration for proficiency with movement (p. 104)".
A carefully planned aquatics program can help an individual with Aspergerís Syndrome develop confidence in his/her motor abilities, which may assist in other areas such as social competence and sensory integration. The following are suggestions for an aquatics program for individuals with Aspergerís Syndrome:

  • Structure? Structure is crucial when programming for individuals with disabilities, especially someone with autism or Aspergerís Syndrome. According to Atwood (1998), individuals with Aspergerís Syndrome impose routines to make daily life predictable and less chaotic. A swimming program should incorporate picture/symbol schedules that indicate the sequence of activities for the session. Older individuals may just need a written schedule with approximate times for each activity within the session.
  • Aquatic skills? As noted earlier, swimming appears to be less affected than skills performed on land. The individual may feel more secure in water because the effect of gravity is not as pronounced. Aquatics may be used to alleviate some of the problems that are associated with motor clumsiness in individuals with Aspergerís Syndrome. Two of the most visible examples of clumsiness in individuals with Aspergerís Syndrome are the inability to perform ball skills (i.e., catching, throwing, kicking) adequately and immature walking, running, throwing, and kicking patterns (e.g., performing any of these skills without opposition) (Atwood, 1998). These may be attributed to sensorimotor integration problems in the areas of bilateral and crosslateral integration. Bilateral integration problems may manifest themselves in the inability of both sides of the body to work together as in catching or throwing with both hands (Sherrill, 1998). Crosslateral integration refers to limb patterns in which one arm moves with the opposite leg as in mature locomotion, throwing, and kicking (Sherrill, 1998).
  • Some suggested aquatics activities for remediation of bilateral integration problems would be to practice using a breastroke or elementary backstroke. Aquatics activities for remediation of crosslateral integration problems would be the front or back crawl (Sherrill, 1998). An aquatics program for an individual with Aspergerís Syndrome could utilize a typical approach for teaching swimming skills supplemented by the activities mentioned for remediation of specific sensorimotor integration disorders.
  • Other considerations (Sensory)? Individuals with Aspergerís Syndrome may be hypersensitive to auditory, visual, or tactile stimuli, and smell as a result of sensory integration dysfunction. Atwood (1998) suggests the following strategies for sensory oversensitivity:
    • using ear plugs (auditory)
    • listening to music to camouflage sounds (auditory)
    • desensitizing areas of the body with massage and vibration (tactile Ė deep pressure while in the water may also help relax an individual with Aspergerís syndrome)
    • using sunglasses or a visor to minimize the intensity of light.
  • Other considerations (Anxiety)? Some individuals with Aspergerís Syndrome are susceptible to anxiety. Anxiety can be induced by sensory issues, unstructured or unfamiliar environments, or awareness of individual differences. Activities that may assist with anxiety are (a) relaxing by listening to appropriate music, (b) engaging in vestibular stimulation (e.g., swinging, rocking chair, floating in water), (c) participating in physical exertion activities such as vigorous exercise or gardening, and (d) allowing frequent breaks or some solitude during programming (Atwood, 1998).

Aquatics as a vehicle for increasing social competence? Aquatics may be a strength for many individuals with Aspergerís Syndrome. Aquatics programming could be used in a group situation with typical peers to help develop social skills, especially if the individual with Aspergerís Syndrome is confident of his/her aquatic skills. Some suggested strategies for developing appropriate behavior are (a) learning how to start, maintain, and end social play, (b) teaching the child to observe and model other individualsí behavior, (c) rehearsing appropriate interactions in specific situations, and (d) participating in cooperative games (Atwood, 1998).


Atwood, T. (1998). Aspergerís Syndrome: A guide for parents and professionals. London: JKP.

Manjiviona, J., & Prior, M. (1995). Comparison of Asperger Syndrome and high-functioning autistic children on a test of motor impairment. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disabilities, 25 (1), 23-39.

Sherrill, C. (1998). Adapted physical activity, recreation, and sport: Crossdisciplinary and lifespan (5th ed.). Dubuque, IA:WCB/McGraw-Hill.

Wing, L. (1981). Aspergerís Syndrome: A clinical account. Psychological Medicine, 11, 115-130.

This content was created by Lupe Castaneda,
Student in Adapted Physical Education at Texas Woman's University,
as part of requirements for
"Aquatics for Special Populations", Huettig, Summer, 1999.

page last updated 1/3/2017 1:00 PM