Launch of monthly autism-friendly swimming sessions

Press release issued by Health and Social Services

A new autism-friendly monthly swimming session is to be launched at Les Quennevais Sports Centre.

Starting on Sunday 3 June from 2pm till 3pm, the sessions will continue on the first Sunday of each month. The sessions are open to everyone and normal entry fees will apply (including free admission for Active card holders) but regular customers will see a few changes for the hour session.

Autism is a lifelong developmental condition that affects the way a person communicates with other people and relates to the world around them. Autistic people see, hear and feel the world differently and sometimes find the world around them overwhelming. This means that taking part in everyday family, school, work and social life can be more challenging.

At times, going to a swimming pool can be quite difficult for autistic people and others with sensory differences so this will provide an environment conducive to their needs. Families will also be able to prepare for their visit to the pool by downloading a ‘social story’ from gov.je. 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.

The idea was put to the sports centre by Nikki Holmes, Community Short Breaks Development Officer at Health and Social Services Child Development and Therapy Centre, as part of her work to create more opportunities for children with disabilities or complex or enduring health needs.

Nikki Holmes said: ‘Les Quennevais is already a very inclusive sports facility and they were enthusiastic about the idea of the autism-friendly swimming sessions.  This shows that small changes can make a big difference to people in the Island and aligns with the key priorities of the Disability Strategy for Jersey.’

Rachel Sawyer, Centre Manager at Les Quennevais said: ‘We are always looking at ways to make our facilities more accessible so I’m delighted that we can help people of all ages with autism in this way.’

The idea has been developed with help from lifeguard Adam Hewitt, who has a good understanding of autism and suggested many of the changes that people will see including:

  • lights and music will be turned off
  • spas and bubble beds will be turned off
  • the viewing balcony will be closed
  • hand dryers in toilets and hairdryers in wet changing rooms will be turned off (hairdryers will be available in other areas)
  • televisions at Reception will be turned off
  • public announcements will only be made if absolutely necessary

Parent Ellie Sharples said: ‘As a family with a child of additional sensory needs we welcome the opportunity to have time at Les Quennevais when the environment is adapted to improve our son’s experience and enjoyment. I’d love to see other family entertainment venues adopt this approach.’

Philip Le Claire from Autism Jersey said: ‘This initiative is yet another way that we find autistic people being given the opportunity to be properly included in activities that most of us take for granted but that many autistic people really struggle to access. We often moan and even complain about all the things that are missing and all the things that could be done better but forget that in lots of ways, lots of people are really making a difference. On behalf of the autistic community in Jersey, thank you!’

Contact Les Quennevais Sports Centre for more information on 449880.

The autism swimming storyboard can be accessed here.