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Diving and Children: Responding to Individual Needs

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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.


You can follow Maryse and her Dive Club / School at www.oceandiver.co.uk and www.facebook.com/OceanDiver.co.uk.

PADI MSDT Maryse runs Ocean Diver, a dive club and school on the borders of South London and Surrey. After many years of warm water diving, she is now a committed UK diver and particularly enjoys introducing people to the delights of the UK! Find out more at www.oceandiver.co.uk.

Dive Training Blogs

Tips for… Navigation

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Not the most fun of topics we guess, but pretty important for any diver! Now we are sure that there are some of you out there that steer away from the navigation side and are quite happy to follow along at the back. But if you are one of those divers and the reason is because you think that it is ridiculously hard.. we want to give you a few basic tips to help you!

Now using a compass may look scary but actually there is not much to it. First rule to remember… North is North under the water as well as on land… it doesn’t change! So, with that in mind we can use that pretty easily under the water to at least give us a point of reference whilst we are diving, even if you are not leading it. Knowing the direction that you are going and how deep you are is a good reference and will help you to become more confident. Get into the habit of taking a ‘bearing’ – fancy word for direction – on the surface before going under and check the bearing as you are diving.

Knowing which way is left and right – well, when going right, the numbers increase, and when going left, the numbers decrease… easy! Starting off with turning left and right 90 degrees will start to get you into the habit of making turns. Try not to use complicated numbers when you first start off, nobody likes maths at the best of times, let alone trying to add 273 to 32 under the water! Keep it basic.

Last but not least, navigating is not all about using a compass. If you are not a fan of it and want to keep your dives simple, there is nothing wrong with natural navigation. There are some amazing sites around our coastline that are perfect for this – harbour walls, piers, open sea coves, all allow the point of reference to be followed on one side of your body on the way out and the opposite on the way back. You can also check that you are going the right way on your return as the depth will start to decrease. This is a great way to start building your confidence with navigating if you are new to it, and what is even better, lots of marine life love to congress around these rocky areas!

Other aspects to consider to throw into your natural navigation bag are picking some land marks during your dives. If there is something notable that doesn’t move (fish are not highly recommended!) take a note of this and use it as a reference and pick another. On the return journey, you can use these ‘markers’ to find your way back to the starting point. A nice and simple way to find where you are going.

So, give it a go in a nice shallow bay area and see how you get on… practice makes perfect!


Find out more at www.duttonsdivers.com

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Dive Training Blogs

Jump into… Behind the scenes of a dive centre

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Ah yes, the glamorous dive instructor. Just as you see in the adverts walking around in swimwear coming out of the sea… and as you guys see us, walking into the centre to meet you at 10am and having done two dives, finishing at 2pm and heading home…

Or not. 

Don’t get me wrong, I love the job as a dive instructor, more than I could ever tell you. But, it does not come without the negative side as I am sure with any job. 

So first off, let’s get these 10am starts out of our heads. A lot of our dives do meet at 10am, to be honest, that is mainly to give you the time to get to us and avoid the traffic! We are there longggg before this, setting up the boat, making sure everything is working correctly, checking the equipment, paperwork and loading everything up to have a smooth, well planned day when you get here. Oh, and as for the 2pm finish. I wish! Over the summer months you will usually find us here until late at night, if we aren’t out doing late afternoon dives, we will be there cleaning the equipment from the day… filling tanks… and making sure everything is ready for the following day.

Next. What else do you not see us doing on the PADI adverts? Cleaning? The centres aren’t exactly small and take a lot of work for us all to maintain… you know what it is like when you are on holiday and get sand in your shoes and it takes ages to finally get rid of it all? Well times that by 100 and you have an idea! 

But it’s not just about the cleaning and preparation parts of the job. There is also a lot of training. From risk assessment training, to scenario days with the staff, we plan monthly training sessions to make sure everyone is up to date with policies and procedures, any training updates and run emergency scenarios to make sure everyone is safe and prepared. 

Last but not least, the actual courses and guiding that you see us doing. The fun part… and what we all live for. Taking you all into the water whether it is to take your first breaths or to learn how to become an instructor. This is what we do all of the rest of the work for. And, I most definitely would not change this for the world. 

So, all jobs have negatives, and in the grand scheme of things, I can cope with filling some cylinders late at night for a career of exploration and seeing the most amazing sites I could ever wish to see. What are the positives and negatives of your job? If they’re nothing like this… why not become a dive instructor?! 


Clare began Duttons Divers at just 19 years old and a short while later became one of the world’s youngest PADI Course Directors. Find out more at www.duttonsdivers.com

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