New autism-friendly swimming is set to make a splash when Leisure & Culture Dundee launch bespoke sessions at the Olympia.

For one hour every week the popular pool will make small adjustments which have a big impact on autistic children. The wave machine will be switched off, music will be turned down, fountains will be put on a gentle setting, and all hand-dryers will be turned off. Staff at the Olympia have also taken part in an autism awareness talk to prepare for the sessions. 

The autism-friendly sessions were requested by Vickie Sutherland, chair of our Dundee branch. Her son, Arran (eight) is autistic and she’d never felt able to take him to the pool.

 

Arran, Vickie and Euan

Vickie said: “The thought of taking Arran to the Olympia horrified me, and I knew other parents of autistic children felt the same. It’s a really great pool, but it’s noisy and busy and full of attractions that are just too much for many autistic children. 

“I decided to get in touch to ask if the team at the Olympia would like to know more about autism and the small adjustments they could make so that families like mine could visit. I was delighted with their response – they were really enthusiastic and have been flexible about the changes that can be made during our sessions.”

Many autistic people have difficulty processing sensory information. Any of the senses may be over- or under-sensitive, or both, at different times. Within a swimming pool like the Olympia, loud music, fountains that splash or spray water, and bright lights could cause distress and lead to a meltdown.

Graham Wark, head of service at Leisure and Sport, said: “Leisure & Culture Dundee is keen to provide the best access possible to our facilities and programmes for families dealing with autism. We applaud staff and are fully supportive of their efforts to tackle barriers to participation and establish the Autism-Friendly Swim Session at Olympia: this is the start of a new journey.”

Staff at the Olympia have also created a ‘social story’ to help families prepare for their visit to the pool, which can be downloaded from leisureandculturedundee.com. A social story is a short description of a situation, event or activity, which includes specific information about what to expect. Social stories are a helpful way of helping autistic people to develop greater social understanding.

Jenny Paterson, director at The National Autistic Society Scotland, added: “The parents who are supported by Vickie and our wonderful volunteer branch in Dundee are really excited about taking their children along to the autism-friendly swimming sessions at the Olympia and having a shot on its famous flumes! I’m really pleased that the team at the pool and Leisure and Culture Dundee has worked with us to make these sessions possible.”

The autism-friendly sessions will be held on Sundays from 10-11am. Families are invited to an information talk at the Olympia from 10am on Sunday, August 28 where Vickie and Lesley Hendry, aquatic development manager from the Olympia will explain the adjustments that have been made. 

For more information, please contact NASDundee&AngusBranch@nas.org.uk or 07576 281 970.