Special Needs Swimming Tips and Gear

Special Needs Swimming Tips and Gear

Summer’s here and the living is easy  hot! Let’s be honest, there’s just nothing better than cooling off in a pool, lake, or ocean when those temperatures creep up! And for those with special needs, swimming is also a great way to get exercise in a weightless environment as well as much-needed sensory input. So let me share a few things that work for us with Chloe’s unique needs and I’ll share a few other awesome ideas I’ve seen around the internet that might work for your needs!

Use a bath chair. Since we already have a bath chair for Chloe’s bathing needs, I love this idea because it didn’t mean spending any more money! Especially since I never know for sure what will and won’t work for Chloe, anything that is cheap or free is definitely preferred! We love using her bath chair at the beach or at pools because it keeps her safe when I have to use my hands for something else, but still lets her feel the water and be included in what everyone else is doing. In a pool, I put her in her bath chair in the shallow end and other kids love to come and play around her. So even though she isn’t actually swimming, she’s participating and having fun in the pool! I also give her beaded necklaces to hold in her hand and she loves to hit those on the water and make a splash. On the beach, this is also great to let her experience the waves rolling in and out. She LOVES it (as you can see below)!

special needs beach swimming

Chloe on the beach in her bath chair

I’ve also seen an idea where you put the bath chair over a beach cart for a DIY beach wheelchair. Very innovative! We decided not to invest in a beach cart for now, but I love the idea and wanted to share!

special needs diy beach wheelchair

DIY beach wheelchair: bath chair linked onto beach cart! Found on Pinterest.

Use a large pool lounger. Every summer we go to a mountain lake with a large group and the last few summers, we have used this large pool island to allow Chloe to be out on the lake swimming with everyone else. She can lay down or be held and kick her feet in the center. Everyone else comes up to us to chat or get drinks. Even when Chloe isn’t out swimming, the group likes to take this out so they have somewhere to chill too! This has been a fun investment for our family. I don’t have pictures of us on it because I never want to take my camera out in the middle of a lake!

special needs float idea

Pool Party Dock found on Amazon

I also recently saw this large lounger and thought it might work for Chloe or others with special needs. I decided not to purchase it for Chloe because what she really enjoys is splashing the water and this wouldn’t allow her to splash, only get the sensory input from floating. So it wasn’t for us, but I thought it could be another great choice for others!

special needs pool lounger

King Kai Floating Lounger found on Amazon

Use a special needs float device. There are quite a few options. We personally have the WaterWay Babies Ring and Cerebral Palsy Square Float. I love them both for different reasons. As you can see below, Chloe loves them both! Both still require that she have 100% supervision and hands on assistance. Not because I don’t want to help her, but because I want her to feel free and independent whenever possible, I was hoping one or both of them would have given her more opportunity for a hands off experience, but that just wouldn’t be safe. She needs too much support. Aside from that, though, she gets enough support and is able to enjoy the water! You can see in the second picture below, there is snow on the ground. That’s because we used to have a hot tub. I loved it and if you have the space and budget to get one, I would recommend it! You can set the temperature at a therapeutic level so it’s warm but not too warm and for those (like Chloe) who have a hard time adjusting to cooler temperatures, they can be in the water longer than a typical pool. Our new home doesn’t have room for a hot tub, or we would have one for sure.

 special needs swim float water way babies special needs swim ring

Here are a few other floating devices that wouldn’t work for Chloe, but look like they could be great for many other kiddos! If you aren’t sure which or if any of these devices would work for your child, I would consider purchasing the triangle ring first, as it is under $5!!! At that price, you could buy 3 and still have only put a down payment on every other special needs device you’ve ever had to buy! It does not provide enough head support for Chloe, but I do think it would provide enough support for many! All pictures are linked.

special needs life vest

Life Jacket Adapted

special needs swim vest swim eezy

SwimEEzy Vest

special needs triangle swim ring

Triangle Ring

special needs water walker

Water Walker. This thing is awesome. Definitely click the link to watch a video of it because the picture doesn’t fully capture what this is!

Also, when Chloe used to do aqua therapy with a physical therapist, they used pool noodles, boards, balls, and other good floatation devices, all which can be found at theraquatics.com.

Beach Wheelchair Options. In addition to the adapted bath chair/beach cart idea above, there are legitimate and awesome beach wheelchair options out there! There is even one that floats! If you have a budget much larger than mine and can purchase one, check out the floating one! If you don’t visit the beach often and/or do worry about your budget, know that many beaches have beach wheelchair rentals. Click this link for a list! Awesome, right?!

floating beach wheelchair

Mobi Floating Beach Wheelchair


The floating wheelchair in action. Yes!


Reclining Beach Access Wheelchair

Accessories. Last but not least, don’t forget the accessories!

Whether it’s to prevent ear infections or to help with sensory issues, these are a great addition to your special needs swimming gear.

special needs ear plugs

An umbrella is one of the most important things I can bring for Chloe when I take her swimming outdoors. She just struggles with maintaining a normal body temperature so anything I can do to try to keep her from getting too hot is a high priority. I love this wheelchair umbrella and it easily transfers to other equipment, such as the bath chair or we can just take it off and hold it. And as far as special needs equipment goes, it’s not too pricy.

wheelchair umbrella

I have searched high and low for the perfect sunglasses for Chloe and these are it. Kidz Banz Adventure Sunglasses saved the day! They are reasonably priced, adjustable, and just work great. It says they are for children ages 2-5, but with how adjustable they are, I would guess they would work for children much older. Chloe is 8 and they still work great for her.

kid banz special needs sunglasses

What tips/equipment recommendations for special needs swimming do you have for us? We’re all in this together. Please share!

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