Swimming 6. 1.

Author: Ilona Koval Grubišić

Keywords: swimming, adapted aquatics, aquatic activities, therapeutic water exercise, swimmers with disabilities, Halliwick

Swimming and aquatic activities for children with disabilities can foster physical fitness and motor skill development within a physical education program and during recreational pursuits. In the opening scenario, Jack’s parents are within their legal rights to request swimming as part of their son’s IEP because aquatics is listed as a component of physical education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Aquatics instruction for students with disabilities is neither a luxury nor a therapeutic (related) service. Adapted aquatics means modifying the aquatic teaching environment, skills, facilities, equipment and instructional strategies for people with disabilities. It can include aquatic activities of all types, including instructional and competitive swimming, small-craft boating, water aerobics, and skin diving or scuba diving (AAHPERD-AAALF, 1996).

Physical educators, school administrators, parents, related service personnel, and special education teachers must be educated about the benefits of aquatics and its role in a child’s physical education. The physical and psychosocial benefits of aquatics for students with disabilities are more pronounced and significant than for students without disabilities. Because of the buoyancy afforded by water, many people whose disabilities impair mobility on land can function independently in an aquatic environment without the assistance of braces, crutches, walkers, or wheelchairs. Although adapted aquatics does not focus on therapeutic water exercise, warm water facilitates muscle relaxation, joint range of motion (ROM), and improved muscle strength and endurance (Koury, 1996). Swimming strengthens muscles that enhance the postural stability necessary for locomotor and object-control skills. Water supports the body, enabling a person to possibly walk for the first time, thus increasing strength for ambulation on land. Adapted aquatics also enhances breath control and cardiorespiratory fitness. Blowing bubbles, holding one’s breath, and inhalation and exhalation during the rhythmic breathing of swimming strokes improve respiratory function and oral motor control, aiding in speech development (Martin, 1983).

Benefits are not limited to the physical realm. Water activities that are carefully planned and implemented to meet individual needs provide an environment that contributes to psychosocial and cognitive development. As a student with a physical disability learns to move through the water without assistance, self-esteem and self-awareness improve. Moreover, the freedom of movement made possible by water boosts morale and provides an incentive to maximize potential in other aspects of rehabilitation.

The Swimming-Therapeutic Club Forca is the first such club in our area and one of the few clubs in Croatia whose members are children with developmental disabilities and persons with disabilities - persons with physical disabilities, impaired sight and hearing and those with learning disabilities. The club was founded with the basic aim of promoting and developing the sport of people with disabilities in Rijeka and the region.

Photo, Center Naprej, rehabilitation in the water, summer camp in Moščenička Draga, 2018

Photo, Center Naprej, rehabilitation in the water, summer camp in Moščenička Draga, 2018

Club activities:

  • planning of the work and development of swimming sport of persons with disabilities
  • organizing and conducting regular systematic training sessions for learning and improving swimming skills of its members and preparing them for competitions
  • teaching and training of children and youth
  • preparing its members for participation in the city, county or state selection
  • care for the health and health protection of club members
  • the overall club activities aim to foster understanding and adoption of ethical values through sporting activities
  • kinesiotherapy

In the SC Forca, we gather 120 members with whom we regularly work at the Kantrida pools and in summer on the disability beach in Kostabela. In addition to regular activities in summer schools, more than 200 children and young people have been trained.

We are a sports club in the County with the most highly educated staff that we have further educated at the Halliwick courses. The club is operated by kinesiologists, physiotherapists, defectologists, educators all of whom are former swimmers or athletes. The volunteers are the students of the Physiotherapy Studies at the Faculty of Medicine in Rijeka. The main goal is to teach children to swim regardless of their disability, ie, they are literally learning about their motor abilities.

There are five sections in the club:

  1. Therapeutic section
  2. School for non-swimmers
  3. Swimming School
  4. Competitors
  5. Recreation

With our program we want to improve the biopsychosocial development of the child. The program is implemented by a multidisciplinary team of kinesiologists-kinesitherapists, physiotherapists, educators and trainers.

The Halliwick concept is widely used in the club program. The Halliwick concept is the approach to teaching of all people, especially those with physical disabilities and / or learning disabilities, to be able to take part in activities in the water, to move independently and swim. (IHA - Halliwick Concept 2000).

At first, Halliwick was called the method. The International Halliwick Organization (IHA) was founded in 1994 with the goals of promoting and developing Halliwick around the world. IHA has chosen to use the term Halliwick concept as the word ‘concept’ because it suggests a wider framework within which different practitioners can apply Halliwick in different contexts.

The concept influenced the traditional ways of teaching swimming and hydrotherapy techniques. At the same time it developed into a special therapeutic activity in water.

The Halliwick concept recognizes the benefits that can be derived from water activity, and sets out the basics needed for teaching and learning in this environment. These benefits are holistic and include physical, personal, recreational, social and therapeutic aspects.

Therefore, Halliwick can have a significant impact on the quality of life of people. The holistic Halliwick approach encourages people to take part in water activities, to float and swim independently, and it fits well within the ICF.

Therapists who want to solve certain limitations can use Halliwick’s structure with special emphasis on areas such as movement (including range of movement, coordination and planning), strength, endurance, respiratory capacity, oral control, fitness etc. Water also promotes sensory integration.

Halliwick helps develop social skills, communication, learning abilities, psychological well-being and self-esteem. Working in a group further promotes the development of these abilities. (Lambeck, Stanat, 2001).

Swimming can be an important activity in promoting quality of life. As mentioned earlier, swimming as a therapeutic tool plays an important role in improving and maintaining health.

At the swimming school, by methodical approach and the appropriate props, we approach the teaching of all swimming techniques: the front crawl (freestyle stroke), the breaststroke, the backstroke, and the butterfly stroke. The aim is for the participants to adopt basic swimming techniques and to start participating in local and regional competitions. Attendees of the swimming school are children ranging 4-12 years of age.

In the club, we gathered a special social group, children with intellectual impairments, who attend a swimming school 3 times a week on recreational and rehabilitation levels, but at the same time, for the interested and serious participants, there are opportunities to compete at local, regional and state level.

The program consists of a swimming school – teaching and perfecting basic swimming techniques – front crawl, backstroke, breaststroke and butterfly stroke. With regular trainings, we raise the level of fitness for the participants, influence the morphological characteristics of the body, teach new motor skills and raise the overall level of motor skills.

Photo, Center Naprej, rehabilitation in the water with aqua gymstick, 2018

Photo, Center Naprej, rehabilitation in the water with aqua gymstick, 2018


Koury, Joanne M. (1996). Aquatic therapy programming: guidelines for orthopedic rehabilitation. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 280 p.

Martin, K. (1983). Therapeutic pool activities for young children in a community facility. Physical and Okkupational Therapy in Pediatrics, 3, 59-74.

Lambeck, J., Stanat, F.C. (2001). The Halliwick method. Part 1and Part 2. AKMA, 15, 39-41.