Sensory Supported Swimming

Swimming can be a great physical outlet and life-saving skill for children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). In addition to promoting health, swimming reduces stereotypic behaviors and increases social behaviors of some children facing these challenges.

Sensory supported swimming: teaching swimming and water safety to children with autism spectrum disorders

A swimming and water safety program for children ages 4 to 17 with autism spectrum disorders

Partnering with Autism Speaks, the KU Department of Occupational Therapy Education developed the Sensory Supported Swimming program to teach swimming and water safety to children with ASD. To promote successful learning, instructors combine evidence-based teaching methods with sensory strategies matched to the unique needs of each child. Each session consists of eight 30-minute lessons. Individual and small group lessons are available to meet the learning needs of children. 

For information about program costs, location, scheduling and more, contact

Above: Through an grant, the KU Department of Occupational Therapy Education has developed a program that teaches children with autism how to swim. Watch video


Natalie Blair
Grace Hunter
Taffeta Jordon
Lauren Kray
Audrey Pumphrey
Laurie Schmidt
Kelsey Sponsel
Jennifer Tanquary
Elyse Wilson

Lisa Mische Lawson, Ph.D., CTRS, is director of the Sensory Supported Swimming program and is a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist. She has more than 20 years of experience in developing and managing recreation programs for individuals with disabilities. Mische Lawson is active in the swim community as a US Master's swimmer with KC Blazers Masters.

Lauren Foster, OTD, OTR/L, an adjunct faculty member, continues to support the program as a consultant from her position as a pediatric occupational therapist in Washington, D.C. Foster swam competitively from grade school through college and has coached all levels of swimmers.

Swim Instructors

  • Julie D'Adamo
  • Megan Mazurowski
  • Sarah Peterson

Interested in becoming a swim instructor? Please contact the program

Selected Resources and Recent Publications

Navigating swim lessons for kids with and without disabilities
Authored by KU's Lauren Foster, this article offers the ins and outs of navigating swimming and swim lessons. While examples of children with disabilities are provided, these solutions apply to all children. Read

Mische Lawson, L. (2014, June).  Supporting Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders in Swimming and Recreation. American Therapeutic Recreation Association Webinar Series H: Autism I. Available for purcahse at

Mische Lawson, L., Foster, L., Strode, M., & Weller, C. (2014). Effects of a swim program for children with autism spectrum disorder on skills, interest, and participation in swimming. American Journal of Recreational Therapy, (3)2, 17-27.

Foster, L., Cox, J., & Mische-Lawson, L.; Englert Shutrump, S.; and Lutman, A. (2014), Staying in sight: Addressing children’s mental health and safety. OT Practice, 19(6), 8–13. (I)

Mische Lawson, L., Cox, J., & Foster, L. (2013). Swimming as a physical activity for children with autism spectrum disorders. Exceptional parent, 43(3).

Franken, L., Mische Lawson, L., & Santalucia, S. (2013, April). Aquatics: Promoting quality of life, health and wellness. OT Practice. 16-21.

Last modified: Jul 09, 2015

Make a Gift, red button
Hoping to reach more families, KU is looking to develop an instructor training program for Sensory Supported Swimming. Help by donating online using the "Department of Occupational Therapy" designation. Please include "Sensory Supported Swimming" in the special instructions field. Make a gift!

Media coverage

KU's Sensory Supported Swimming program serves its 100th student. Read more.

Swimming program for kids with autism wraps up third year at Fairway pool. Prairie Village Post

Feb. 2015 issue of "Streamlines" with Facebook post and discussion. U.S. Masters Swimming

Swimming Program Teaches Children with Autism Skills to Save Their Own Lives. Fox 4 Kansas City

KU OT students from work with children in sensory supported swim program at the Fairway City Swimming Pool. Facebook photo gallery

Fairway pool home to special swimming program for kids with autism spectrum disorders. Prairie Village Post