Autistic swimmer taught to competition standard in 18 months

JPCT 27-07-12 S12300302X Billingshurst Leisure Centre. Corinne Steer taught Henry to swim. Henry is autistic with only a few words to communicate with. -photo by Steve Cobb
JPCT 27-07-12 S12300302X Billingshurst Leisure Centre. Corinne Steer taught Henry to swim. Henry is autistic with only a few words to communicate with. -photo by Steve Cobb

An autistic boy with severely reduced communicative skills has been taught to swim in only 18 months by a swimming teacher from Billingshurst.

When 14-year-old Henry Clarke started swimming lessons with Billingshurst Leisure Centre swimming teacher, Corinne Steer, he inspired little hope as he ignored directions and tried to hit his head on the side of the pool.

Now, one and a half years on, the determined lad can swim in deep water, can do good front crawl, is also progressing with back crawl, and is set to join swimming competitions next year.

“I will always remember the first lesson as it was dramatic,” Corinne said. “Henry continually tried to escape from me into other areas of the pool. Overall, it was very challenging.

Although Henry only has expressive speech of several hundred words and regularly only uses about 20, after countless hours into researching autism and communication techniques, Corinne has managed to create strong bond with him.

“The real turning point happened many months in. By this time I knew Henry quite well. He has an older brother who is a good swimmer and he seemed to look up to him.

“I took him to one side and spoke to him. I made eye contact and said, ‘Henry, I know you can understand me so please listen to me.

‘Your brother is a really good swimmer and I know you want to swim like he can. Please listen to what I say to you and I will help you to swim like he can.’

“From that day forward, Henry really progressed.”

Henry’s parents, Tim and Rosie, from Ashington, have watched the progress at poolside.

Tim said: “Corinne was not put off by Henry’s extreme behaviour, which was, at times, alarming - even for us! We hoped he would be given a chance to improve and much to our relief his lessons continued.

“Lots and lots of patience and understanding are needed to teach someone like Henry. I would really like to express my gratitude to Corinne not only for the lessons but for the background work she has done.”

Corinne will continue her work with Henry while he trains to compete next year.

“Overall, I believe Henry enjoys his swimming and has fun!” She said. “Henry must take all the credit for what he has achieved. He’s done it, not me.

“Every week is new and different for both of us but we plough on together in search of fun and success in our swimming.”