Coming back to swimming after lockdown, I was reminded of just how much I love it, and how many benefits it brings: there’s the low-impact physical exercise, the socialising with like-minded people (well, at a safe distance these days) and the wonderful feeling of freedom you get from being able to let everything go: no touching walls, floors or furniture as you’re carried along by your ability to keep yourself moving in the water. No doubt about it, for adults or children, swimming works wonders for the body and mind. As an author, it’s where I’ve had some of my best ideas because it’s the one place I can forget the outside world and just let my mind go where it wants.
While it’s beneficial for all children, swimming is especially good for kids like mine, who were diagnosed with autism and dyspraxia before they were both five years old. It can sometimes feel as though they’re trying to cope in a world that isn’t designed for them, or that they’re not equipped for, but when they’re in the water, they’ve got a level playing field.
All the obstacles and barriers they face when trying to exercise on dry land are removed when they’re in the water. Activities like running and athletics make my elder son feel self-conscious because of his mobility issues, but when he’s up to his neck in water and can’t be seen, he’s far happier – and less likely to fall and graze his knees, a common occurrence when he tries to run. Similarly, swimming doesn’t involve having to deal with tricky objects such as balls he can’t catch, or motor skills like hitting an oncoming ball or aiming a javelin: in fact, while of course swimming has prescribed strokes, as long as you’re moving forward, you’re doing it right: you’re swimming.
When my boys were learning to swim, I made their teacher aware of their conditions and they immediately put strategies in place to enable them to access the lessons. This gave me an idea: I decided to write a book for children, featuring a character with additional needs learning to swim.
To ensure the information in the book was accurate, I enlisted the help of lifeguard and swimming teacher Jonathan Gerrard. Having worked extensively with children with additional needs, he was able to tell me how he would approach teaching a child such as Chloe, the character from the book, as well as filling me in on what he would do in a mainstream school swimming lesson.
‘Have Fun, Be Safe’ is part story, part swimming safety information. Through the characters of Lifeguard Rob, Lifeguard Jen, Sam and his sister Chloe, the book reinforces basic water safety rules as well as providing a guide for young children about how they can help a friend or sibling with additional needs when in the water.
Chloe’s disabilities are not named, as they are described by her five-year-old brother, who does not have a full understanding of them; he just knows ‘She can’t hear very well and she’s got some other problems.’ However, the strategies used by Rob and Jen are those that were used for my children. As Jonathan had experience of teaching children with hearing difficulties to swim, it was his idea to include the sign language symbols that appear in the second half of the book.
The book was being prepared by our publisher and we were geared up for an April release date… then disaster struck in the form of Lockdown. While not a huge problem in the grand scheme of things, we realised it would be pointless to launch a book about swimming during the only period in recent history in which all pools were closed. However, pools are opening across the country now and you can now buy my book here. It’s more important than ever that children feel confident and happy in the water – and we hope this book will help them do just that.