Kerry & Olivia

Smiles all around

As a parent of a child with additional needs, the swimming lesson journey can often be one filled with worry.  Can they cater for our needs, will they fit in, what happens if there is something they can’t do, is it safe, what will happen if I’m not in the water?

At Places Leisure we teach children with a wide variety of different needs every week and whilst it’s not always plain sailing we believe that an open and honest dialogue and a shared goal can lead to fantastic results. 

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Here is one such story that demonstrates perfectly how working together can lead to smiles all around, told by Olivia’s mum Kerry.

“Olivia has Hemiplegic Cerebral Palsy which has resulted from having a Stroke at birth. It has affected all of the right side of her body including her facial muscles, down to her right big toe! Olivia has no movement in her right wrist, she cannot weight bear on her arm and has no pincer grip, she also has a 2cm length discrepancy, making her unbalanced when she walks. 

Olivia started swimming lessons at around the age of four. Initially I was very concerned, but I knew she loved the water and was desperate to start! 

As a worried mummy, I gave the centre a call and spoke to the swimming co-ordinator Lorna. I told her all about Olivia, how she loves the water, and I knew it was the right thing to do, but was really worried about Olivia's right-side hemiplegia. 

I’d been taking Olivia in the water from a young age and she had learnt to wear a body float in the water.  She had learnt to balance herself and keep upright with practice of using her strong side to compensate for her weaker side. She now was a pro at this, and had got her balance on point! She could even judge it right and float on her back! She loved her float and I loved her confidence when she wore it!  I was very concerned about Olivia having to take her float aid off now she was going to be doing swimming lessons.

I knew Olivia would be able to touch the floor in the pool, but this was not the issue. It was adjusting her body to turn over in the water as she has a weaker side. If she panicked and couldn't get herself back round, either on her front or back, she could in take water and this was frightening to think of what could happen!

When talking to Lorna, she was very understanding and knew exactly my concerns. She said Olivia would be able to wear her float in the water on every swimming lesson and she reassured me Olivia would be given adapted styles to help her progress in her own way as her ability would be different to the other children in the class. 

This was amazing for me to hear and for Olivia to be included in a class. I was really happy and excited to tell Olivia that she would be able to start with the other children. 

Olivia started her swimming lessons and she absolutely loves going each week! She is like a mermaid and just loves the water, she is always under the water, happy and smiling which is so lovely to see! 

I was concerned about her in every lesson, and I would watch her like a hawk through the glass, sitting right where I could see her just in case!  But I didn't need to worry at all.  Every class Olivia would be told to hold the float differently or things would be adapted, and her confidence grew greatly, even to a point where she wanted to take her float off. This was amazing! And a massive milestone to hurdle but she did it and is now swimming confidently in stage 3.

She can even get out of the pool herself now.  This was tough to watch and every week she would try.  Some tough love from Lorna, and plenty of ‘you can do it Olivia’ encouraged Olivia to build up the strength in her arm to hoist herself out. The first time she did it, I actually cried, I was so proud of her! 

Unfortunately, due to the stiffness associated with her cerebral palsy, Olivia can’t swim in the big pool as it’s colder, so Lorna has said she can complete her Stage 3 in the Stage 2 class, in the smaller pool. I can't thank Lorna enough for her kindness and understanding!

Olivia is now 6 years old and she knows exactly what she can and can't do. She listens and knows what's expected of her but in her own way.  She is absolutely incredible, using both of her arms in the water, something I never thought she would do, as Olivia tends to forget about her arm and often has it hanging down. But in the pool, she uses it, and it strengthens with every pull, and she places her hand in the water too!

The exercise of swimming strengthens both of her arms and the kicking of both of her legs is great for Olivia. It's not only building her strength up all over, but also her core, coordination, confidence and being part of a class! The 4 C's!!!

I would recommend Swimming for all children. It has given Olivia so much pleasure with the children she has met along her journey, to the high fives she gets from the teacher! It makes me the proudest mummy to watch her progress!

I know Olivia is slower than the other children and doesn't pass the stages as quickly, but my goodness from being told Olivia may never walk or talk at birth, to see her in the water with a beaming smile make me the happiest and proudest Mummy!!!

We also asked Olivia what she loved about swimming and what she likes to do now she can swim.  Here’s what she said:

“I love going under the water and jumping in. The best things about lessons are making friends, passing certificates and badges, being able to swim without my float and get out of the pool myself without steps.  I like to go to the river and play in the water and I like to sit on the paddleboard. I like to go to the beach and the slides at a pool.  I want to be a mermaid!”

Our swim team are here to help so if you have any concerns or your child needs additional support in the water please get in touch so we can talk it through.


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