On the evening of Thursday, November 29th, the Autism Society Greater Akron (ASGA) hosted their graduation ceremony for Swimming with Autism, a water safety program designed specifically for individuals with autism. Families of the swimmers were invited to attend an open swim session at the Akron YMCA, followed by the presentation of graduation certificates.
Drowning is one of the leading causes of death for people with autism, so ASGA partnered last fall with Akron YMCA to teach water safety through Swimming with Autism classes. Since then, 65 swimmers have received over 1,300 lessons across three sessions. The curriculum for the program was originally adapted by ASGA from a similar initiative administered by the Autism Society of Greater San Diego.
Swim instructors for the program are studying or working in a disability related field and received training in modified safety swimming skills and techniques, the characteristics of autism, communication techniques, and instructional and behavioral strategies to utilize with students. Students attended classes twice a week, for ten weeks. Through generous contributions from the GPD Employees’ Foundation and other individual donations, the cost of the program was subsidized for families.
“When we began, Isaiah had extreme fears about moving backwards at all in the water, especially deep water,” said Julie Farris, mother of Isaiah (11), a first time Swimming with Autism student. “He would never do swim lessons, because his anxiety controlled him. Once we began this program, his instructor was able to understand his specific anxieties and struggles, and gained his trust right away. From there, he was able to overcome his fears and excelled much further than we would have ever imagined. We are so thankful for the Swimming with Autism program, because it could save Isaiah’s life.”
The following students – ranging in age from four to 18 – made up this year’s graduating class (first name and city of residence):
• Henry (Medina)
“It’s incredible to see the progress some of our swimmers make in just a short ten weeks,” said Lisa Thompson, Director of Programs at ASGA. “There’s no better feeling than talking to a parent at graduation who can feel reassured about their child’s safety around water, and begin including them in swimming activities. We thank Akron YMCA, our swim instructors, and GPD Employees’ Foundation for helping us to make a lasting impact in these children’s lives.”
The next session of the Swimming with Autism program will begin in March 2019, and registration will open early next year. More information about this program, and other Autism Society of Greater Akron programs, can be found at www.autismakron.org/.