PADI MSDT Maryse Dare continues her Scubaverse blog with part three about responding to individual needs…
Scuba diving is a wonderful activity with many therapeutic effects. However is it suitable for all children?
We are all used to signing off the medical certificate but what if there is something that isn’t covered in the magic tick list? The “behavioural” question is fairly open to interpretation so it may be that you have a further conversation with the parent and it is always important to be open and honest in conversation. The child may succeed in a very confined environment such as a pool, but what about in open water and more importantly, what about after certification?
There are a range of different needs that we have worked with. I am fortunate as I trained and worked as a teacher for twenty years, including working closely with children with additional needs. I am not, however, qualified to assess a child for a condition. This post, therefore, is based only on my experience.
We have worked with several children who are on the autistic spectrum. In only one case, we (the parent and instructor) have decided that diving is not for that child. There are a few children and parents who have decided that they enjoy the time in the pool and do not want to go into open water. And then we have several other children who are developing into superb divers and scuba diving may well be a significant part of their lives for years to come.
We have had to adapt our communication, although reflecting on this is never a bad thing for anyone. I recently worked with a child that took everything literally. If you reflect on instructor training, we were encouraged to link the dive experiences to other experiences. This can lead to confusion and I have found that this child responds well to just being told the diving instructions and to have them clear and bullet pointed. He needs to have everything told to him just once. When he started diving I was worried that he was not retaining any information but we recently did a refresher of all skills covered to date and he not only completed them, but could also gave me my original briefing verbatim. This led to further reflection; I need to be very careful about what I say!
I have dived, in the past, with a non-hearing adult. I do not sign, although if I knew BSL it may not have helped anyway as they were not British! However, through slow and careful speech she was able to lip read and we could agree on our hand signals. Underwater, our speech became equal; in fact she was at an advantage as she was far better at nonverbal communication.
We have also worked with children with behavioural issues. The limited attention span can be difficult to manage so we break up the learning into many small activities. In some cases we have found that their concentration in the water is greater than out of the water. We are waiting to see if these benefits start to spread beyond their diving. I have had two children whose behaviour and concentration means that we are not ready to move into open water yet. When we do, we will complete only one or two dives and they will not be signed off for their Scuba Diver until they have met the requirements and I feel comfortable that they will be safe to dive under supervision (which they would have to do anyway because of age restrictions). We will then move on with the second half of the open water dives.
With children we always start with a try dive. Through this we can decide if we can work safely with the child and if they can be safe in the water. If the child responds well then we start with the Seal Team so we are not certifying the child for diving independently in later years, which gives further time to assess the ability to dive independently. As PADI instructors we are required to work to standards but ultimately if a person cannot complete the final open water dive then they are not meeting the standards required to achieve full certification. I assume this applies to other training agencies too.
The most important thing is to ensure you’re not promising to certify a child. Too many people think that their pounds are paying for an open water card. That’s not the case; the money is paying for the usual level of tuition (and perhaps a bit more) given for a person to support them to reach certification. Certification is not guaranteed.
Being open to working with children with additional needs can be just about removing barriers. Scuba diving has amazing benefits, and by adapting what we do as professionals we can ensure we open it up to people who may benefit even more from diving than others. An added bonus for us as instructors is it makes us reflect on our own practice and teaching skills, and this can only help us too.