Child swimming

Many children who have hemiplegia learn to swim. Caregivers should carefully monitor any child when in or near a body of water.  Extra care should be taken with a child who has hemiplegia because these children are at increased risk of having a seizure. Drowning is a real danger and can happen in a second, in even small amounts of water. Assign someone to watch your child and take turns watching so the observer does not become fatigued.

Parents Speak

Today was a great day!  Connor, age 7, with right hemiplegia, started swimming like a fish! At the beginning of the summer, he could barely swim 10 feet without a life jacket. By the end of the summer, he’s flipping in the water, swimming to the bottom, floating, and diving in the deep end. I just can’t believe how much progress he’s made. – Lisa

Q. My daughter is learning to swim and instead of swimming in a straight path, she’s swimming in circles. – Nancy

  • Amber swims under water, rather than on top, and does a crawl stroke. She veers to the right a little, but swims just fine. – Trisha

Q. My son is 4 years old and has right hemiplegia and he tends to tip to the right side or on his back with life vests. I’ve tried suits with built in floats, but he just sinks with those. We’ve been using a ring, but I would love to find something that would keep him upright and still allow for freedom of movement with his arms. – Susan

  • Our son tried arm wings and at age 4 kept falling face forward. Then, these worked at age 5. – Daniel
  • We tried puddle jumpers and those worked well. – Sandra
  • I have twins who are almost 2 years old and my son who does not have hemiplegia does fine with the puddle jumpbers. My son who has hemiplegia doesn’t seem to have enough arm movement with these and tips forward since he’s not flapping his arms to stay afloat. I’ve not given up, but these may not work for younger children. – Aileen
  • The styrofoam barbells are great if put under the armpits for flotation and better freedom of arm movement. The colored noodles work the same way and our 10 year old can do some modified strokes with these. Again, makes sure you monitor your child because these are not approved safety devices. – Katy

For swimming, we found a regular “bubble” (sold at our YMCA), with waistband, and used a noodle for our daughter to lean on. We found it important to find a VERY patient swim teacher who worked wit her despite her protests and whining. Today at age 11, she’s a pretty good swimmer and is on a swim team. She’s never had an easy time maintaining her body temperature while swimming, so she frequently swims wearing a shortie wetsuit.  – Maggie

My son swims with a para swim team in the Seattle area. Last month he added a typical swim team just to get more swim time in. He’s 10 years old and will swim at the National Junior Disability Championships (NJDC), has also competed at the Jimi Flowers paralympic meet at the Olympic training center and in several of para and able-bodied meets. This is a great community of swimmers. – Nora

I just had to share this moment with you.  My 14 yr old son who has right hemiplegia is away at Boy Scout summer camp at a beautiful lake.  He took swimming therapy/lessons for about 4 yrs when he was in elementary school in a nice 94 degree water pool. He has never liked swimming since because he got spoiled with the warm water and was never a confident swimmer, and hated the cold water. It made his muscles tighten and made swimming harder. Boy Scouts makes you do a swim test (4 long laps -about 75-100 yds) at every camp or outing where there will be water activity.  He has always refused to do it and never went swimming at camp, or when the troop goes to the pool, which is his choice. This year, the swim test was in the really, really, cold lake.  He had told me before he left he wasn’t going to do it.  I said take your trunks and goggles anyway, who knows, you may change your mind.  He already made his mind up he wasn’t doing it. We got an email update about the camp, saying the boys were going to do a canoeing overnight camp on the other side of the lake.  I just figured my son wouldn’t be going on that campout.  But apparently, the non-swimmers get rowed across in a boat with the adults. Later that day, I got a call from one of the adult leaders, who had to tell me that Robby passed the swim test!!  I was bursting.  Apparently, being rowed across with the littler kids was the motivation he needed to do it.  I am so proud of him. He did the side stroke 3 laps, and elementary backstroke, which is required for the last lap.  He texted me that night and said he almost did an extra lap because he kept going in circles on the last lap doing the elementary backstroke.  His left side is stronger and kept him off course.  He completely forgot what his swimming teacher taught him about aiming his head in the direction he wants to go. I am so happy for him for overcoming this obstacle.  I told him you decided to do it and made it happen! – Tina

Girl Underwater Baby in Swimsuit